Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Price

The past few days of being home have presented a challenge I didn't expect.  Chelsea being her usual angry self, I'm used to.  Near-constant screaming and fighting, a normal day in this house.

What I didn't expect was for my mother to start mocking everything she knows is incredibly important to me.  My faith, my church family, The Vespers - whom she well knows are the ones who brought me back to Christ in the first place.  Everything that scares her about my life.  And what was worse when my mother looked me in the eye and said she didn't like the person I'm becoming.


It started on the ride home Sunday, and while I hoped it was just a one-time thing, it continued on into yesterday to the point that I've barely spoken to her today.  I know I've never been good at letting things roll off my back, but it's even harder to do that when these hurtful words are coming from one of the people I love most in the world.

I think that's why it hurts so bad - because I love her so much.  I want her to like me, and I'll be honest, hearing these things from her caused me to do some serious reflection.  Not about my faith, or my church, or The Vespers, but wondering if this journey I'm on of growing closer to Christ is going to cost me one of my most valued relationships.

It wasn't until I was texting Chris (Plekenpol) earlier today for his advice/wisdom that I came to a realization. "The Bible says time and time again that your faith will cost you.  If my relationship with my mom has to suffer as my relationship with Christ strengthens, so be it."

Do I love my mom?  Yes, absolutely, more than I can put into words, more than I think even she realizes sometimes.  But here's the thing - I love my God more.  The past couple of years have been the most eye-opening, joyous years of my life.  I have learned and done things I never could have done had God not come chasing after me as He did.  I'm not going back for anything, not even my mother.

As I sat here trying to find the words for how I feel in order to write tonight's blog post, I kept thinking back to a line I heard in this video from Lecrae.

Do you know that you were bought with a price?

A price.  Securing my eternal safety cost God everything.

"'Cause even though my sin delivered the whips that ripped the skin from his bones, on a cross he would die to deliver me home.  See, he saved my life, so I owe him everything, and he loves me with no conditioning." - Nick Vitellaro, "Sincerely Freedom"

He saved me.  How can I not give him everything of me?  How could I dare say to my Father, "Sorry, I was down with this whole 'following you' thing until it started costing me my relationships?"  My mother didn't save me from hell.  I am not hers; I am His.

So as much as it hurts, I'm going to keep on being who I am and loving my God as passionately as I can.  And as much as I pray that my mom's eyes are opened to the life that waits for her by walking with Jesus, I also pray that in the meantime, even if she doesn't understand my decisions, she'll at least respect them.  I know that's possible - Matt doesn't understand Christianity, but he knows I pray for him and doesn't hate this part of me, a part that's becoming a larger piece of who I am every single day.  Hopefully one day (soon) it will be everything that I am and see myself as.

I was bought with the greatest price there is to pay.  I owe him everything.  There's no other option.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

One Night

That's all it took.

One night of sleep in this house and I'm already sneezing my head off.

I am so allergic to this house.


I had my usual post-semester 24-hour coma today, which means I did nothing except sleep until about 8:00 tonight unless my family woke me up to eat.

Put sinus pressure on top of the pain I was already in, and I feel pretty miserable.

Tomorrow I have to get to serious work on this paper.  I want to get it done and over with so I don't have to think about it anymore.  But I have no idea how I'm going to manage it in this much pain.  It'll be interesting, for sure.

It's gonna be a long summer if I spend the entire three and a half months this congested.  Agh.  Heaven help me.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Home is where the heart is.

"Home"...but not exactly home.

It's been a very long day.  A day full of church and packing and goodbyes and moving and riding and unpacking and organizing.

It's been an emotional day.  A hard day.  Saying goodbye to the girl you've shared every second of the past two years of college with when she's going back to California and then who knows where in the world to play pro soccer cannot be easy or emotion-free.  This part of the day hurt really, really bad.  The good news is that no distance can truly separate sisters like us. Especially when there's an invention like FaceTime. ;)

I'm gonna treasure this pic like gold, no lie.

But I don't want to be sad because sad isn't who I am, so let me tell you about all of the good things that happened today.

I was able to go to church one more time and say goodbye to a bunch of people that have truly changed my life.

I had so much help moving that I didn't have to do anything, which is a real blessing because I hurt my back while packing last night.  Justin, Jenn, Holly, Michael, Corey, Mom, and this guy here below were all there.

Getting to see him made today so much easier.  And because we only get to see each other a few times a year now, we treasure each other that much more.  And I got to introduce him to Ryann, who I've long said is basically the female version of him.  I'm so happy to know that I don't have to wait months to see him again - he promised he'd come down to Swansboro and take me out for my 21st birthday in June since it's on a Saturday. :)

My sister and my brother.  Sometimes I still have a hard time believing I have best friends as amazing, loyal, and protective as those two are.

Then, once we got here to the house,  we did lots of heavy unpacking and moving and things.  I'm taking over Blake's room for the summer because this way I'll have a room all to myself and be able to keep it clean, and Chelsea has too much stuff in her room to move it all in here.  Chelsea's got a lot of organizing and stuff to do on her day off tomorrow, but it feels good to be at least somewhat unpacked and in place.

I'll be honest.  Tonight was not pretty.  It took less than an hour and a half for me to break down in tears from all the yelling and tension and stress.  It's gonna be a long three and a half months.

I miss Campbell.  That's where I belong.  Though I'm not sure how it's going to feel when I get back there in August and Ryann isn't there, but at least I'll have my church family.

I love my mom, and Blake, and even Chelsea.  But here's the thing.  Home is where the heart is.  My heart is a lot of different places, but here isn't one of them.

Lord, help me to be the light of Christ to my family this summer.  I need this time to be different.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Night Before

Well, I survived. 5 exams in 51 hours.

And my hardest one was the last one.  And my head was the worst today, of course.

I'm not totally sure how well I did on it (not a confidence issue, my professor is an unpredictable grader), but at least it's done and I filled an entire blue book with information despite having a hard time keeping my eyes open.

Afterwards, I went and returned my books, and then promptly came back to my room and took a very long nap.

I was lazy pretty much all afternoon, and have spent all evening/night packing up as much as I can.

Mom, Matt, Holly, and Justin (only person I know with a truck) are all due to be here at 1:30 tomorrow.  It's a good thing I go to the early church service; I'll be back  by 11 and this will give me a couple hours to eat lunch and finish packing everything I need tomorrow up.

I'm simultaneously incredibly happy and horribly sad to be leaving tomorrow.  I'm happy because it's summer and I get 3.5 months of freedom (well, once I get this make-up research paper out of the way) to spend with my mom and Blake and without school stress (again, after this paper is done), and I still get one more Sunday with my church family.  I'm sad because Ryann is graduating, going back to California, and then moving somewhere overseas to play pro soccer and who knows when we'll see each other again, and I have to be without my church family for 3.5 months, and be stuck in a house with Chelsea all summer, and honestly, because this place is home to me.

It's my home.  I haven't even left yet, and I already can't wait to come back.

At least I get to see both Holly and Matt tomorrow.  There's a plus.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

So Close

Well, Day 2 of 3 is done.

It was awful.  My Phonetics exam started at noon and took so long I had to leave before it was done to get to my World Religions exam at 3:00 and have time to review.  So I didn't get done with my Phonetics exam until almost 5:30.

My eyes hurt.

My head is in absolutely awful shape.

And I still have to finish the study guide for my International Relations exam that is at 8:00 tomorrow morning.

I'm so exhausted.

I just want to sleep.

I just want tomorrow to be over already.

Granted, I still have a research paper to make up when I am home next week, but at least I can do that without having to wake up at 6:30 or memorize pages of information for essays.

Ah, summer.  So close I can almost taste it.

I can do this...I can do this...I can do this...

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Keep my eyes above the waves.

This week I've been a mess.  I couldn't explain the awful sad feeling I had, I just knew I couldn't get it to go away.  Just as I would think it was leaving, it would pop back up and I would cry more tears than I knew it was possible to hold.  It wasn't until tonight that I figured out the explanation for this feeling I've had...it was when Kyla and the Sanctuary band were singing "Oceans" by Hillsong and they got to the lines "And I will call upon Your name, and keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours, and You are mine." that I finally could put words to this ache I've had.  I've felt like I was on the edge of drowning.

Drowning in stress.

Drowning in fear.

Drowning in pain.

It's not been pretty.

Actually, it's been a legit fight to keep my eyes focused on God as the world tries to get me to focus on anything and everything else, namely myself.

I think it's when I got too focused on myself that the drowning feeling set in.

Every day that this pain goes on, every time it gets worse just when I think it can't possibly be any more painful, I've been wondering how I was going to handle it with final exams instead of letting go and reminding myself that I don't have to handle it because God is.

And every day that I spend not letting God handle is another day I waste drowning in the sorrows of this world that are just too much for any human heart or mind to bear by itself.  Sorrows like the Boston bombing.  Sorrows like a young woman getting stabbed to death by her husband's supposed best friend.  Sorrows like the pain that sometimes cripples me.  We weren't made to handle stuff like this on our own.  That's why we need God.

My mama always told me that nothing worth having ever came without a fight or at a price.  There is no one and nothing more worthy of my fight than the Lord.  If it weren't for Him, I wouldn't have any fight left in me. And it's when I stop fighting to continue my chase after the Lord that the enemy wins.  I'm not willing to give up everything I've gained in the past year.

So I'm going to keep searching for Jesus, even as the waters rise.  Even as the pain goes on and the answers continue not to come, I'm going to keep my eyes on the Lord.  He's the only One that can pull me out of these waters and keep the waves from swallowing me whole.

Lord, help me to surrender this fight again and again, every single day.  Come to my rescue.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

And so it begins.

The beginning of the end.

Today was the last day of class.

My first exam begins in a little over 9 hours.

My last exam will be done in less than 60 hours.

My first and last of 5 exams start exactly 48 hours apart.

I am in intense pain, but made it through 4 classes and 2 tutoring sessions.  Praise the Lord.

I don't have a lot to say today.  I'm exhausted and need to prep for my Advanced French Grammar final that is in the morning so that I can get at least some sleep.

Here we go.

I'm already dreading leaving...at least I'll get to see both Matt and Holly on Sunday.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I get by with a little help from my friends.

This journey I'm on right now isn't easy.  I've never been one to pretend that it is.  I learned a long time ago that keeping up a facade that everything is fine is more effort than I'm willing to put in.  And there have been a lot of dark moments of questioning and doubting and crying.  Y'all know this; this blog is probably the only place where I am 100% honest and open 100% of the time.

But one constant piece of good throughout this whole mess is the fact that I have been surrounded by so many people who have walked with me through the good days and bad and been here for me without fail.  No matter what kind of day I'm facing, I always know that I have almost three dozen people that I can call or text with prayer requests or just to talk to.  These people have walked with me every step of the way and never once wavered in their certainty that my healing will come.

This goes so far beyond just the obvious ones, like Ryann, Matt, The Vespers, etc.; people I used to barely ever speak to have become invested in me and my life have asked me to keep them updated with every new development so that they know what to be praying for and about.  Like Jen, I'll never forget seeing her in tears over my situation.  Or my friend Drew, who up until this point had only been a Facebook friend since that dance in October 2011, who searched me out in the library to ask about how I was doing because he'd seen my Facebook posts, and then asked me to text him the full details so he could pray and to keep him updated.  Or Paige, a girl who started out as nothing more than one of the many students I tutor, and quickly became one of my strongest prayer warriors.

There are even people I've never met praying for me.  Like Lynn, the woman in Alabama that Taylor and Phoebe met on a plane and with whom I spent 4 hours on the phone talking.  Or the people in Chris's church in Texas (Chris and I are both praying God gives me a way to visit down there one day soon).  They have poured love into my life, a complete stranger.  There are blog friends, like my sweet friend Lauren, who have lifted me up and encouraged me as if we've been best friends for years.  And then there's Jeff Bethke, who has told me via Twitter and email that he's praying for my health - me, one of more than 100,000 people who follow him on Twitter.

Now don't get me wrong, Ryann, The Vespers, Kyla, and Caitie have been huge sources of encouragement throughout this.  I still remember what Taylor said when he prayed over me the day I went into the hospital, and how he texted me encouraging messages and verses throughout that whole stay.  I can call Kyla or Caitie anytime I need a girlfriend to listen.  And Ryann, well she's the one who always seems to be most confident on the days when I'm not confident at all, even though I know privately she worries about me as much as anyone.  These brothers and sisters of mine always know what I need and aren't shy about giving that.  They keep pushing me forward toward Christ, and when I'm facing a trial like this that honestly tests my faith, I need people like that so desperately.

Do I believe that Christ is sufficient all on his own?  Yes, absolutely.  But I also believe that we were never meant to do this life alone.  Humans were designed to crave relationship.  We all want to love and be loved.  And looking back at the scared little girl I used to be who believed the only love she'd ever have in her life was Matt, it makes me weak in the knees to reflect on my life now and realize that I have more love in my life than I know what to do with.  I don't know if I'd have the bravery to continue trusting Christ if I wasn't so blessed as to be surrounded by people who are so faithful in keeping me focused on the Truth, especially on the days when they can see me wavering.  I don't know how I'd make it through each pain-filled day without all of these amazing, dedicated, confident-in-God, supportive and loving people being Jesus to me every step of the way.

Blessings like this, they're just beyond comprehension.  I could never deserve all of this, but I am filled to the brim with gratitude that God chose to place all of these friends in my path, anyway.  He knew exactly what I would need at a time like this.  Faithful God.

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Monday, April 22, 2013


So when I got discharged from Duke last Sunday, the doctor who discharged me told me that they were setting up an appointment for me at the headache clinic, and it would be in early May that I could get in because it would be easier to get me an appointment since the neurology team had seen and treated me in the hospital.

They never called me last week like they were supposed to, so I spent half an hour on the phone today trying to figure out when my appointment was.

Imagine my surprise when they told me that my appointment was scheduled for June 18th.


One of the "joys" of going to basically the best hospital in the world is that they come with ridiculous waiting lists.  That is literally the first available appointment that they had.  And then I had to move it to the 19th because the 18th appointment was at 10:45, and I knew Mom would hate making that long of a drive that early, and they didn't have anything later that day.

So June 19.  That's 58 days until I get to see a specialist who might actually have some clue as to how to help my pain.

In the meantime, I scheduled a clinic appointment with one of the doctors I saw in the hospital because it doesn't seem like this new medication combination is helping at all for May 8.  Maybe he'll give me some pain pills or something because this pain is getting more intense by the day.

I'm frustrated, not gonna lie.  Right now, all I'm trying to do is keep my mind focused on the truth:  God is still good, God is still in control, He's gonna work this out for my good and His glory.  Leaning into Christ is the only thing that's gonna get me through this.  I don't have anything else at this point.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013


Man, oh man, it is going to be so hard to go home for the summer next Sunday.  I mean, granted, I'm not leaving until the afternoon so I'll still get to go to church that morning, but that's gonna be my last time worshiping with my church family for close to 4 months.  And just writing those words makes me want to cry because this place is my home and so much a part of my heart.  Add into that the whole idea of being stuck in my house for that long, and part of me wishes this semester would never end or I could fast forward straight to fall.

This morning was so wonderful.  I heard a couple songs that I've never heard before today, but we also sang "Cannons", which is not only a song they performed my first day at Theater Church but also one of my Sanctuary songs.  That made me smile.

Pastor Sean's sermon focused on Colossians 1:3-8 (this whole current series is on the book of Colossians) and the four signs of a Jesus follower:  a life noticeably changed, constantly changing, immediately changed, and of reproduceable change.  It was a sweet time of reflecting on the night I got baptized and what it felt like to have my entire life changed in a split second, and how much change has happened in my life since, and all the sweet friends who have commented on the transformation they've seen in the person that I am.  It also greatly convicted me in how I can improve in the "reproduceable change" area.  I need to seize every opportunity possible to help teach someone about the Lord that I serve.  I want to experience the feeling of knowing that I led someone to Christ, just like The Vespers can say they led me to Christ.

But honestly, the part that hit me the hardest was in verse 5 when Paul talks of the hope that the people of Colossae have and how Paul and Timothy know about it, how it was evidence of their faith and love for Christ and all the saints.  It became kind of difficult for me to focus on the rest of the sermon after that because I couldn't get one word out of my head.


I thought about Friday night and telling Jenn through teary eyes that the only way I am able to survive this trial is because of the hope I have in Christ.  And then how Saturday came, another day that left me begging God just for the strength to get up and out of bed, and how I forgot that hope.  It baffles me how I can feel so sure of what I know to be true one day and so full of questions the next day.  That's humans for you, I guess.

So at the end of the message, Sean opened the altar for anyone who wanted to come up and pray, like usual.  I knew I needed to get raw and real with God real quick because tears were already on the edge of my eyes, so I went up and started praying.  I started asking God to renew my hope, to show Himself to me on the days when I'm wondering where He is in all of this, just pleading with Him to carry this burden for me and get me to let go.  I lost knowledge of everything around me as I prayed, save for when I felt someone place a hand on my back and not remove it.  I heard whispers as I continued to pray, so I glanced over and saw that person who'd put their hand on my back kneeling in prayer with me.  I immediately started thanking God for showing Himself to me so quickly, because as I realized that someone was there praying over me, it felt like a sweet whisper of a message from God.  I'm still here.  You aren't alone; you are never alone.

That sweet friend who had come to join me in my cry to God was Justin.  The song ended, our prayers ended, we both got up, and he immediately gave me a huge hug.  Throughout all of that, starting with when I felt him join me in prayer, Matthew 18:19-20 felt more powerful and truer than ever before: "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

I spent so much of my life fighting on my own, feeling like no one had my back, that I fooled myself into thinking I didn't need a community, that I didn't need people by my side to walk with me through life.  I'm so glad I was wrong.  And what's even more mind-blowing than the fact that I have love this deep in my life is that when I texted Justin later today just to say "I'm so blessed by your friendship. Thank you for being such a dedicated friend," he wrote back "I can say the exact same!"  This friend has called me a blessing when I feel like the entirety of our short friendship has been him being there for me.  That honestly just makes very little sense to me, but that's the beautiful part.  I don't have to understand it; I just have to accept it.  And I do, with open arms.

Community like this, a family like this, is absolutely priceless.  There is nothing in this world that I would give up or trade for these friends who have been so faithful to me.  I said this on Friday on my Facebook status, but I truly pray that everyone could have a family like this because, really, y'all, there is absolutely nothing like it.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Favorites

So I realized last night that with all of the surprise hospital craziness, I never put my latest Vesper pictures on the blog.  And since all that happened today was a lot of sleep and a lot of homework, that's what you're getting.

It was so good to see these guys again.  Like, really, so, so good.  This stretch was the longest I've gone without seeing them since I met them, and I quite honestly felt like a kid on Christmas morning when I woke up on April 8th, so anxious for them to get here I could hardly stand it.

Their show was at 10:00.  Taylor texted me in the middle of my 8:00 class to let me know they were here, and I ended up skipping my 9:00 class to hang out with them before the show.  Which turned out to be a huge blessing, not only because it was my only time to hang out with them as they left almost immediately after the show but also because I was sitting in a tiny room with 5 of my best friends when I got that phone call from my mom.  I was able to verbally process everything with them, and the last thing they did before they went out on stage was pray over me.  I have no doubt that their presence played a huge part in keeping my nerves calm that morning.

The show was incredible, per usual.  I had a front row seat, per usual. I got another T-shirt to add to my collection, per usual. :)

And of course, I got pictures with all of them.  They know how I work; even on their time crunch, they obliged for their VIP. ;)

First off, this is Caitie.  Isn't she pretty?  I love her quite a bit.  My sister, for sure.



Bruno...I actually got a legit smile out of B Jones!!  

Taylor.  It probably comes as no surprise that I missed this kid most of all.  Hands down, one of my best friends, and it was so great to be reunited with him again; we've grown exponentially closer since the last time we saw each other.  And that's the Niners hat I got him! :)

I loved getting to give them all their gifts.  Seeing the smiles on their faces was totally thanks enough.  I loved how stoked Taylor was about his Niners stuff, a T-shirt with their "Who's got it better than us? Nobody!" catch phrase on it, that hat, and a pin.  Phoebe and Callie told me I didn't have to get them anything for their weddings, so it was sweet to surprise them.  Bruno loved his gift, too, which was a donation to an organization focused on stopping sex trafficking by spreading the Gospel.  And Caitie kind of melted over hers, which was a journal in which I wrote a quote on every single page, kind of the perfect thing from one girl who loves words to another.

I know I've said this about a billion different times in a million different ways on this blog, but y'all, these 5 kids right here are pretty much my most favorite people on the planet.  When they all surrounded me and prayed over me that morning, it just reaffirmed my knowledge that these aren't just some of my best friends or my favorite bands, these are my family, just as much as my blood or church family.  These are my brothers and sisters.  I am immeasurably blessed by their presence in my lives and learn about Christ every day just by the way they love me.

I even wore the new shirt they gave me to the hospital that day.  Orange + gray = the perfect shirt for me.  This is now my favorite Vesper shirt, and probably my favorite shirt I own at all because these are the softest t-shirts ever.  It was a sweet reminder as I sat in the ER that day that these loved ones of mine were right there with me in spirit.

Now if only I knew when they were coming back to me... ;)

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Friday, April 19, 2013

There is power in the name of Jesus.

Y'all, today was SUCH a good day.  Not even joking.  It was incredible.

First off, today was a bearable day of pain, which means that not only was I able to make it to all of my classes, I was able to go from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm without stopping without crying or needing a nap.

Nothing too exciting happened in International Relations or World Religions, but I guess a good thing was that we spent all of IR discussing the Boston bombings (and praise Jesus, one guy is dead and the other is captured! Boston can start to heal and go back to their normal lives now), and we're finally past all 19 of the vocab quizzes in WR which meant I could actually enjoy that class without having to think.

But then my day started to get really awesome.  Around 10:40, Alex showed up and took me to lunch!  It was him finally "paying" me for all the documents I edited for his law school application.  He took me to Zaxby's, which was delicious, but mostly it was just awesome to spend time with him again.  I haven't seen him before today since September!  We just spent an hour laughing and talking and debating before he had to get to work.  I love that kid.  He's one of few people in my life that I can debate things like gun control, abortion, and gay marriage with and enjoy myself 100% of the time.  Rare thing for politics nerds.  He's just so sweet.  He opened doors for me, gave me huge hugs which he knows is something I always love, when we prayed before the meal he thanked God for me and our friendship, and before he left I said "I love you, kid" and he said "I love you too". :)  I will never get tired of spending time with a guy as nice as him.  I just wish I had gotten a picture with him. :( Guess that shows you what a good time we had; I was so busy enjoying myself I didn't even think about it until after he was gone!

Then, I did homework until it was time to go to Phonetics and Public Policy.  Normal classes.

About 20 minutes after class, some of my church friends, Janelle and Don, came and picked me up to go to a church event tonight.  They had their adorable little boys, Davis and Waylon, with them, and they took me to dinner on them before we went to church (the boys were going to their grandma's house).  We went to...Zaxby's.  I just had to laugh.  Of course, when people are nice enough to buy me dinner, I don't make any complaints about where they take me, and I'd never complain about Zaxby's because it's delicious, but I laughed because before today, I hadn't been to Zaxby's in years and today I went twice.

This is where my day got the kind of amazing that is just beyond words.  The event at church tonight was called "Waiting and Worshiping: Why Purity Matters".  First off, to see so many college kids pick an event like this as the place to spend their Friday night is plain and simple awesome.  But mainly, God did an awesome thing in my heart tonight and touched me in ways I never could have expected.

I felt myself drawn so much closer to His heart as I learned about the real foundation behind my belief about saving myself for marriage, and that helped secure my confidence in standing up for that belief when outside forces try to get me to change, especially people that I love.  I feel like a made a new friend in the girl who led the girls' session.  She taught me a lot and was real and funny and I loved it.

Standing in that sanctuary singing my heart out in praise of God gave me chills.  There is NOTHING like the sound of dozens of people joining together to sing songs of worship.  I know I sound like a giant Christian cliché, but seriously, it brought me back to Sanctuary.  No one worrying about how we looked, or what we sounded like, or what other people would think about what we were doing, we were just comfortable and sang as only the body of Christ can.  There is something so unbelievably powerful in something so simple.  I even learned a new song, and part of the lyrics jumped out at me as something I'm crying to God so much that I took a picture of the lyrics on the screen so I wouldn't forget.

Give me faith to trust what You say, that You're good and Your love is great. 

Little did I know how much those words would come into play later in the evening...

At the end of the night, after the group session, there was time for people to pray or talk to the leaders or do whatever they needed to do.  Scott and Jonni, the guest musicians,

were up singing "Break Every Chain",  and I just sat there in my seat talking to God.  Then, I felt this arm wrap around my shoulders.  I'd been sitting with Jenn, my friend Justin's girlfriend, all night, so when I felt that, I almost immediately reached back and put my arm around her shoulders, as well.  We sat there until the song was over, just forehead to forehead.  I was singing the words to the song at first, as much for me as for her, but I could tell she was crying, so I asked her if there was something I could pray about for her.

This was when things got really interesting.  Instead, she looked up at me, shook her head and said she was fine, and started talking about how much she was hurting over the fact that I am hurting.  How she didn't know how I do what I do or how I manage to be so sure of who God is in all of this.  And then God blessed me by dropping yet another opportunity to share my heart with people into my lap, and so I got to tell her just some of the things that I've learned as I've walked through this struggle.  How I know that I can only survive this because of God.  How I see how much God has blessed me through my life story.  How I know that He has walked with me every step of the way.  I was honestly somewhat shocked at first - I could hardly believe that this girl that I had really only spoken to in passing or small chat at Small Group was so torn up about my suffering - but the words just seemed to pour out of me.  Needless to say, I was in tears by the end of that conversation, too.

And as I sat here tonight, preparing for this post and reflecting on everything that happened tonight but especially my conversation with Jenn, I almost teared up again just thinking about how blessed I am to have found a church family like this.  These aren't just the people I go to church and Small Group with; these are my family.  They are people who knew absolutely nothing about me, yet took me in, loved me anyway, and have walked with me every day since.  People like them are such a huge part of the reason I am able to walk through this trial in one piece; they are my Aaron and Hur when I feel like Moses.  It already makes my heart ache thinking about being separated from them for close to 4 months, but just like family, I know they'll be right there waiting for me when I return in August.

I don't know what else to say other than the fact that this was one of the best and most powerful worship experiences of my entire life, second only to the night I got baptized at Sanctuary.  There aren't words for that.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mental Health Day

So.  I slept until 4:00 this afternoon, aside from getting up to go to the bathroom a couple times and text Dr. Steegar (yes, I text my French professor, it's awesome) and Ryann that I wouldn't be in class today and two of my tutoring kids that I couldn't meet today.  Good thing I see those two twice a week anyway, so they're not being completely left hanging right before finals.  I won't miss my appointments with them on Tuesday.

I don't know what made me so incapacitated today, but it is what it is.  At 4:00, I ate, and then did some of my reading homework because my head finally calmed down enough to handle it, and then I actually made it to my 3rd tutoring session tonight.

Then, I came back, took a nice and long and hot shower, watched most of  Glee, and then got a phone call from the lovely Miss Caitie.  We didn't get to talk yesterday, so it was nice to get the chance to verbally process everything that had been going on in my head yesterday.  That girl is my big sister in every way that counts, and I am immeasurably blessed by that.

Finally, I got to watch my other big sister, sweet Kyla, and the Sanctuary band lead worship, basically the perfect ending to this day.  They sang some of the songs I learned there at Sanctuary, and then they ended with a new one, which put me in tears.

This song was something I needed to hear so badly tonight, especially after the day I had yesterday, a day I didn't get to fully recover from today with the pain as debilitating as it was.

I have to trust God with everything in me right now.  I don't know why my prayers aren't being answered, or the prayers of the many people who are standing by me.  I don't know how this story is going to end or when my healing is going to come.  All I do know is that I want desperately to live the life God has planned for me, on His timetable and not my own.

"I will call upon Your name, and keep my eyes above the waves.  My soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours, and You are mine."  I have to hold on to that tightly right now, and keep crying out.  I am His, and He is mine.  I am never alone.  Thanks be to God.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Holding on to Hope

It's just been one of those days.

One where no amount of sleep will ever feel like enough.

The pain is at the point where I can't focus on work, but I can't sleep, either.

I'm stressed and exhausted.

The enemy is attacking me with fear about a lot of things.

So really, nothing huge happened, it's just a lot of small things adding up to a lot of weight on my mind and heart.

That basically describes my day.

Oh, and this song.  It's what I've got right now.  It reminds me of yesterday's post, and it's about all I have on my mind at the moment.

"Holding on to Hope" - Jenny & Tyler

People I know around me float past with the debris
Saying they don't mind, such is life, as they float on down the street
I heard the worst is to come, I heard the words
'Look above and find your home in Me
In this storm.'

I'm holding on to hope, hope, hope
And never letting go, no, no
Even when the storm, it grows, hope, hope
Will never let me go, no, no
'Til I go on home

People build homes using pieces of broken virtue and philosophy
When people place hope in people, I notice even more broken dreams
I know that time is so short, there's something in store, a home I've never seen
In this storm, oh, in this storm

I'm holding on to hope, hope, hope
And never letting go, no, no
Even when the storm, it grows, hope, hope
Will never let me go, no, no
'Til I go on home

Only a trace, no face to face
So here I wait with this poor reflection
Running a race, scared I'm going to break down
Give me strength, Your protection
Only a moment, a passing of time
Until the day when faith is sight
Only a moment, like a flashing of light
So keep me safe, keep me nigh
Keep my way homeward bound
When the rain's pouring down
Keep me safe, keep me safe

I'm holding on to hope
Never letting go, no, no
'Til the day I come on home, hope, hope
And finally fully know

Holding on to hope.  That about sums it up.  I need His strength and protection, but I know He's going to keep me safe.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hope Dies Last

So there's this blogger.  I've mentioned her here before, but not in a couple of years.  Anyway, all you need to know is that she blogs semi-anonymously over at Single Infertile Female as SIF, and I say semi-anonymously because she has a new book that she published herself that's just come out (and I, for one, can't wait to get paid at the end of the month so that I can go buy it!) so people are obviously going to know her real name now because it's printed on her book.

None of that's really all that important, aside from me needing to mention her because she's part of the inspiration for tonight's blog post.  I've been reading her blog for several years now, and last year, after going through trial after trial in her attempts to become a mom, she got a tattoo on her ribcage written backwards so that every time she walked past a mirror, this truth would be a reminder for her.

That phrase?

Hope dies last.

She got this tattoo at a time when the world had beaten her down pretty hard, and she had every reason in the world to give up hope.  But she got this instead, to remind herself every day that there is always room for hope.  And that's what I've been thinking about today.

I had an unusually quick chat with Taylor today, but in that short amount of time, we talked about what it's been like me getting back to school the past couple of days.  I told him about how people, even though I know they have well-meaning intentions, treat me so delicately, like I'm about to break just because I was in the hospital, and how frustrating it can be because, in reality, I'm the same me that I was 10 days ago.

But after he had to get off the phone, it got me to thinking (again) about people constantly seem to be amazed by the fact that I have a positive attitude and am generally pretty joyful about life despite the circumstances in front of me.  My thoughts sort of go back to pity and my aversion to the whole concept because there's really nothing to pity me for.  I don't like people feeling sorry for me, especially when it feels like they're missing all the blessings I see right in front of me every day.

Another common thing I hear from (again, well-meaning) people is that they don't know I can still get up in the morning, how I can still believe that I'm going to be okay and that God is in control so I'm going to be okay.  And after I thought about it, I realized the answer is pretty simple:

I still believe all of those things because I have hope.

Jesus is my hope.  Jesus died so that I could have hope.  Giving up is not an option.  For me, the only option is to keep pursuing the path He's laid out in front of me to glorify Him and tell everyone I meet just how good He really is.

As long as I am alive, I'm going to have hope.  Hope will be what carries me through this broken, wicked, sinful world straight into the arms of my Father in the perfection of the glorious paradise where I get to stay for all eternity.  I have hope because I know that this world is not the end for me.  I think that right there is precisely why I didn't have hope through the years I struggled with depression so greatly; I thought that this world and this life of suffering was all that was left to me.  I had no idea, I couldn't believe or accept that there was an eternity of freedom with no hurt, pain, or sickness waiting for me beyond anything I can see.

God is where I find my hope.  God never changes.  My hope never changes.  I still have hope after all of the these health issues and problems that doctors can't find the answers to because Jesus, my hope, my Savior, is the one constant that I do have.  He is a living Savior that brought to life with Him a kind of hope that, for the longest time, I didn't understand was for people as messed up as I am.

When everything else fails, I have hope.  When everything else is gone, I have hope.  Even if my healing doesn't come this side of heaven, I have hope in the security that it will come when I am in heaven with Jesus.

People want to know how I do what I do, and generally do it with a smile on my face?  This is how.

I have a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus is my hope.  Hope dies last.

Oh and PS?  SIF got her very own miracle in the form of a beautiful baby girl that fell into her lap in a miracle adoption. :)

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Hit the ground running.

This text I sent out a couple hours ago sums up today pretty nicely.

Despite my pain being back to like a 9/9.5 all day...

despite barely sleeping last night...

despite having that typical "I've been hit by a truck" body ache feeling that comes with getting out of the hospital...

I had a wonderful day.  I was just asking for okay; God gave me wonderful.  That's God for ya.

I had way more energy than I expected to considering how rough last night was.

My professors were all so happy to see me back and doing okay; every single one of them pretty much ordered me not to stress myself out over their class (though there's really only one - the only one with a massive research paper - that I'm worried about).

I had an opportunity to minister to a guy in Texas who is currently feeling so much hurt that I can absolutely relate to.  I saw so much of my past in his words, my heart was immediately breaking for him.

Work was good.  Half being lazy, half tutoring some kids in Algebra.  One of the guys, I've actually tutored him multiple times before, and I really like working with him, so that's nice.

Then, I came back and took a nice, long, hot shower and watched Castle.

And now I'm about to go to bed.  As my friend texted me when I told her I was at work, "You hit the ground running today!"  Yes, yes, I did.  Today was exhausting, but I am definitely glad to be back.

Tomorrow's going to be a busy day.  Well, mostly a busy evening.  I have Grammar at 8, tutoring at 10, a chat with Taylor somewhere in the late morning/early afternoon, making up 3 World Religions quizzes somewhere between 1 and 3, then tutoring 5-6 and 6:30-7:30, then work at the Tutoring Center 7:30-10:00.

I better get my rest!  From now until I finish my finals on the 27th, I have a feeling every day is going to be similarly crazy.

Yay college!! :)

(And no, that was not sarcasm.)

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Noisy and Needy

One would think that my post the day I got out of the hospital would be about...how excited I am to be out of the hospital.  And it's true, I am excited.  And normally (ha, I say normally like normal is a real thing in my life), I would write about just that.  But sometimes God takes the plans you have, even for things as simple as what you're going to blog about, and flips them on their head because He hits your heart in such a way that you can't help but express everything that's going on in your head in the best way you know how.

At least, that's how it was for me today.  This had to be written.

Remember Chris Plekenpol?  He was one of the many people I'd been updating via text while I was in the hospital this week, so naturally, I texted him this morning to let him know I was getting out today.  He told me to listen to today's sermon, because thankfully, his church posts all of their sermons online, and I told him I would.

Fast forward to tonight at Campbell, and I'd just put my laundry in the dryer and had 50 minutes to spend.  I decided to go add the page where all the sermons are posted to my bookmarks so I could access them with ease, and when I got there, I saw today's sermon was already up.  Chris had told me to listen to it "tomorrow", but as I sat there and stared at the title on the screen, I had this nagging feeling that I needed to listen to it tonight.  I don't think I made it through 10 minutes before I was crying.

I texted Chris afterwards; this was word-for-word what I posted on his church's online community at his request.  It explains it all.

Oh, and if you want to listen to the sermon (which you really should), click here and then click on "Noisy and Needy".  It's about 40 minutes long but worth every second.


First off, let me say what a huge blessing I consider it to be that I can listen to WBCC (their church, Wells Branch Community Church) sermons on the same day!!  It is a true joy of mine to learn from your leaders all the way here in North Carolina.

Second, Chris told me about today's sermon when I texted him this morning that I'd be getting out of the hospital today.  He said listen to it "tomorrow", but I really felt like I needed to listen to it tonight.  This is the verbatim text I sent him not long after I was done.  He asked me to share this on here because "I am ministering to his church" and if that is the case, then I am filled with gratitude and honored to share this peace of my heart with you tonight.

"I listened to the sermon tonight because it was up and I felt like I really needed it...man, was I right.  I'm sitting here as weak and broken as I've ever felt and you spoke exactly the truth I needed right into my heart.  I wanted so badly to convince myself that I believed my healing was coming that I forgot to cry out to the only One who can heal me.  And then I'd remember but wonder if it was even worth it because He's watched me in this pain and I keep hitting roadblock after roadblock.  And then I convince myself I don't deserve His healing so I'd just be wasting my time, but you were so, so, so right.  The beggar knew he didn't deserve healing, and that just made him cry louder.  So I'm gonna keep crying out, because I don't have time not to, not to stop begging for the mercy of the only One who can remove this pain.  Thank you for allowing God to use you to reach and affect my heart.  You didn't have to put this much effort into helping a girl halfway across the country that you may or may not ever meet, but you chose to.  I thank God daily for the blessings He has poured out upon me through the wisdom He has given you...I may listen to that sermon multiple times just because I need the reminder.  This is one of the hardest trials I've faced and I have to cling to my faith because it's the only reliable thing I have left."

We all reach that point in our lives when we feel like God has forgotten us.  Or we're not important.  Or He's  just not listening right now because He's got better things to worry about.  I know I get all of those lies and then some caught up in my head all too frequently.  We stop asking for healing, or mercy, or redemption, or salvation, or whatever it is we want so desperately because we've convinced ourselves that there's no point.  Again, I've been there.  Just this week as I laid in the hospital, there were several nights I laid awake late wondering where He was in all of that mess, and it was then that He would send a faithful, loving, patient friend to encourage me of what I knew deep in my soul to be true.

That truth is that God is EXACTLY who He says He is.  He is good and He is faithful and He laid with me every second of that hospital stay and every minute before that when this world tried to push me down and break me.  That is the one truth that I can always rely on when nothing else makes sense.  He is the only reason that I can hear "I don't know" after "I don't know" from some of the best doctors in the world and still have the strength to get up in the morning.  And no matter how many questions or doubts I have, or days I face when believing and trusting in a Father I can't see or touch or trusting in a healing only faith can guarantee me is coming doesn't make sense, that is what I keep coming back to.

I pray that if you're reading this and you're walking through a time of trial that I am right now, that you cling to this and cry out for mercy from the God who never quits paying attention.  He IS coming for you, friend.  He is coming for us all.  And until He comes, we are never alone.  He sees your pain.  He grieves it with you.  He's holding you right now as you beg for Him to make His presence known.  You are not forgotten.  Not for a second.


This is why I had to write about this today.  This sermon spoke to hurts I didn't know still needed healing - didn't know or chose to ignore? - and forced me to confront a huge mistake I've been making over and over again as I've walked through these months of pain.

Every time I wondered if my healing is coming, every time I doubted that God really saw me and heard my cries, every time I begged God for mercy and thought it was a moot point was put to rest.

Just like the blind beggar, I HAVE to keep crying out for mercy from the God who can take away this curse because He's the only one who can do it.

I HAVE to keep crying out to Him, even when it doesn't make sense, because my faith in the Father who has redeemed my shattered past is all that I have to hold on to.

I HAVE to keep crying out because it's in those cries that I am pushed further and further toward the Father who is waiting with open arms.

I have to continue to beg for mercy from my God because I don't have time NOT to.

No, I really don't deserve healing from God.  If my God worked on what was deserved, I'd receive the torture and death that Jesus took for me.  Instead, because I am blessed with the love of a Father who adores me despite my epic failures, I have the chance to cry out to God to help me in my brokenness and trust in the fact that He is a Father who never stops listening.

So I'm gonna keep crying out, I'm gonna keep on begging for His mercy.  He's all I've got left, and my voice that puts sound to the cries I feel with every inch of my being is what draws me closer to Him.

If you're walking through trial like me, I hope and pray that you keep on crying.  Even when other people tell you to be quiet.  Even when YOU tell you to be quiet.  Keep crying.  Keep being needy.  Keep being noisy.  Keep being persistent.

He's listening.

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

I am but I know.

(This is backdated because I didn't feel like writing much this week.)

Oy.  Well I'd say the hospital blues have set in.  Part of me doesn't want to leave because it doesn't seem like the DHE worked (the last dose was earlier today) but part of me is thinking it'll be so nice to get out of this tiny little room.

I'm frustrated, but not with these doctors.  They're trying everything they can think of.

I'm frustrated, but not with God.  I've felt him with me every second of every day this week.

I'm just frustrated with the situation, and trying not to be because I know that God is in control of this, even when it feels like a total mess.  I know that I am not alone.  But I'm human and I have to learn how to balance my very human emotions with what I know to be true about the King of Kings.

I'm frustrated...but I know that my God is a God with a plan and a purpose.

I'm scared...but I know that He will heal me.

I'm exhausted...but I know that He alone will give me the strength I need to make it through a day.

Sometimes I'm lonely...but I'm never alone.

Those are what I have to hold on to.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Quick update.

(This is backdated because I didn't feel like writing much this week.)

Nothing much to say today.

The higher dose of the DHE is good, feeling slight improvement.

But then again, I felt improvement during the last DHE, and we all know how long that lasted.

More waiting, more praying.

At least they're keeping me knocked out pretty regularly.  That's a nice change.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Texts like this...

Middle of the night texts from one of my best friends...

Texts filled with faith that I'm not sure I have...

Words that my sweet friend knows I need to hear when I'm laying awake in a hospital bed...

Encouragement like this at my weakest moments...

That's how I know that God lays with me in my pain.  Friends filled with love like this are a constant reminder that I am never alone.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

DHE Round 2

I definitely don't have meningitis.  No surgery.

Neurosurgery wanted to discharge me in the exact same state I was in when I got here; instead, neurology convinced them to switch me to their service so they can try to get to the bottom of this pain.

The Duke protocol for DHE therapy is slightly different than the combination I did at my neurologist's office in February, so there's a chance it could work better and longer. It's worth a shot, and anything is better than being sent home with no new options at this point.

I got to share my testimony with another hospital chaplain today. It was awesome.

I am surrounded by love.

God is good. Hope is alive.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Rambling Update

Blogging from my phone for the first time, so bear with me if there are any weird mistakes or formatting errors.  I've never done this before, but I don't feel like dragging my computer out at this hour, and I thought that since I felt up to it, I might as well post an update here.

It's been a very long day. Mom and I both finally got a bit of sleep this morning while stuck in that tiny little ER room.

Ooo, I should start from the beginning. We got to Duke about 2:30 yesterday afternoon. We thought that since a doctor had specifically called us and told us to come get me admitted that we could skip the craziness of the ER (and the $200 copay)...but no such luck. The place was a zoo. We sat in the waiting room for six hours.

The good news is that once we got back there, things moved fairly quickly. I got pain meds. The neurosurgeon was there to meet us as soon as we got in an ER room and was very friendly and detailed. He told us there was still a slim chance the bacteria they found could have just been a contaminant from a mistake made in the lab, so they wanted to retest and make sure before they did anything drastic.

First, they did bloodwork, and that came back normal, so if there is an infection, it's not systemic yet. Once they got those results, they decided to do another shunt flow test tiger another sample of spinal fluid. As Brennan said, yes, that does seem weird because it's another chance for me to get an infection if I didn't already have one, but it's the only non-surgical way to get another sample of spinal fluid to test.

Bacteria takes days to grow in these samples, it took 48 hours for Friday's test to show bacteria, so we still don't know the results yet. Hopefully they will come tomorrow. They started me on some antibiotics as a precaution, though.

We finally got sent up to a real room just before 6:00 tonight, and man, we sure were happy to get out of that ER room.  Even better, God decided to really bless us and grant Mom's two requests: that the room be a corner room (because they're MUCH bigger than all the other rooms) and that it have a good recliner for her to sleep in instead of one of the usual very hard and uncomfortable fold out chairs. We have so much more space.  And I got to take a shower tonight, and it felt AWESOME.

Now here comes to the irritation of the day. I thought that once I turned 18 and officially became an adult, I would get the respect from doctors that I lacked at 16 and 17. They never trusted that I knew what I was talking about, that I knew my body and what worked for me. I thought being a legal adult would change that.

Wrong. Twice in one day, I've had doctors flat out refuse to give me the dose of Dilaudid that I always get, the only narcotic that reliably works for me. The first doctor in the ER first said she wasn't going to give me Dilaudid until I tried lesser stuff, even though the only reason I'd been refusing it was because I know Tylenol and Oxycodone don't touch my pain. After 30 minutes of arguing and me crying, we finally agreed on a combo of two other drugs to see if that would help. But then, the nurse went to get them and she had ordered Dilaudid! Turns out she had looked in my chart and saw that I was telling the truth about a long history of using Dilaudid as treatment. She only ordered half my usual dose, but she did put it in as every 4 hours so I wouldn't have to fight to get it every time.

The guy doc, up here in the real hospital room, was a total jerk when I asked for a second milligram of it an hour after the first. He called 2 mg an addictive dose and said if I can talk and get up and shower and blah blah blah, I can't be in that much pain. That really pissed me off. Dude doesn't know my pain tolerance or my history, and basically all but calls me a drug addict and a hypochondriac in the first two minutes. He threatened to cancel the Dilaudid all together, told me to take Oxycodone (might as well just give me sugar pills) or "deal with it" because I didn't get admitted to the hospital for pain. No, I didn't, jerk face, but since I am admitted anyway, it's not an outrageous request to not want to be in excruciating pain for the first time in six months. Ugh. I love this hospital, but the male doctors have a tendency to be really condescending and arrogant and have horrible bedside manner.

Anyway, the good news is that the doc today said that the cultures should come back tomorrow evening. When they do come back, if they're clear, there is no infection and they'll send a neurologist to my room before they discharge me and I will be out of here by Friday. If the culture has bacteria, I'll have surgery the day after we find that out. After 2009. I never thought I'd pray for them to find something like meningitis, but I want them to find something. I know something is wrong, something has to be wrong, and I just want answers. I want this pain to stop ripping pieces of my life away.

I'm at peace with whatever needs to be done, even surgery. I know I will make it through because I am not alone. The Lord is fighting for me, and I am surrounded by a faithful and oh so loving prayer team of friends who always remind me that they are standing with me. Those two things can do wonders for your spirit.

Here's to hoping for a brighter tomorrow.

(I'll fix the time and date later. I can't get it to cooperate.)

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Please pray!

Any prayers y'all have got, I need 'em.  All I know is that Duke found bacteria in my spinal fluid from the test on Friday.  I won't know if/when I need surgery until I get to Duke this afternoon.  I'll update here as I can, but for faster updates, my Twitter is twitter.com/_callmemal and the link is over there in the right sidebar under my picture.

PRAISES: This could be the explanation to months of constant pain, and I was sitting in a room with some of my best friends, The Vespers, when I got the call, and then I still got to see their show.  God is faithful.  My Jesus is still the same as he was before I picked up the phone.

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sometimes I think God has a sense of humor.

You know what was one of the songs we sang at church today?  "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)", aka the exact same song I used on my baptism anniversary post just days ago.

We also sang "Your Love Never Fails", another song I learned at Sanctuary and have posted here before, that hit me particularly hard today because of the chorus: You stay the same through the ages. Your love never changes. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.  And when the oceans rage, I don't have to be afraid, because I know that You love me, and Your love never fails.  That's a promise I'm holding on to tightly right now.

It was a wonderful service, as always, and I found the sermon very interesting, which was surprising since it was all about marriage, and I'm nowhere even close to that yet.  But I learned a pretty big lesson about Biblical submission that's always been a hard thing for this independent, raised-in-a-house-full-of-women type of girl.  I've got plenty of thoughts on it, but I just don't have time for it right now.

I don't have time for it, because the day completely got away from me, and I still have to create this bibliography to turn in tomorrow (that I really should have had done weeks ago but my professor is super understanding).  I did manage to get the 12-week "headache diary" filled out while at work tonight, which I will get in the mail to my neurologist on Tuesday and is the first step to getting my appointment at the Carolina Headache Institute.  I want to go ahead and get this bibliography done so I can hopefully get a decent amount of sleep tonight because tomorrow is a VERY important day.

The Vespers are finally coming back to Campbell!!!!! Vesper withdrawals are real, people.  I'm tellin' ya.  It's been a long seven and a half months.  I can't wait to give them their gifts! :)

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hope Renewed

Y'all, God is so faithful.  Like, really.  He never fails.  And just when I start to waver and doubt and question everything I'm facing, He shows up in a huge way to remind me that I can trust Him and He really is the Father I can always rely on and who loves me unconditionally.

So yesterday, I went back to Duke for another test and appointment with my neurosurgeon.  We figured that the test would come back normal considering the CT and X-ray did, but it was worth a shot and our peace of mind to make sure it was.  It actually showed something - even though the pressure on my shunt valve is set to 100, it registered at 150.  That's still within the "normal" range, but could explain at least part of the constant pain I'm experiencing.  So we dialed the pressure down from 100 to 80, but I have to give it two weeks to see if that does anything.  My doctor also said that my weight might be contributing to the whole problem with my shunt pressure, so it's looking more and more like I really need to have gastric bypass this summer.

That took from 9:30 to about 12:00, and then my sweet mama treated me to Olive Garden for lunch even though she doesn't have much money to spare this month.  I haven't been there in ages, and it was delicious.

After that, we drove to Raleigh and back to my neurologist.  We were actually about 45 minutes early, but we didn't have anything else to do, so we waited and I took a quick nap as I usually like to do when I want to escape the pain.  Plus, I'm not sleeping much anymore, and that test this morning just added to the pain, so I needed it more than usual.

I love, love, LOVE my neurologist.  She absolutely refuses to give up on me, nearly 10 months after I started realizing the medicine I was on had stopped controlling my migraines.  She had a lot of new ideas, as well.  Starting at the beginning of next month, after I'm done with this semester, I'm starting a Botox treatment (only once every 3 months) there at the office, which she said is literally the last and most extreme thing they can do for me.  Because that's all there is left, she's also sending a referral to a specialty clinic that focuses on chronic headaches called The Carolina Headache Institute.  I won't get to see them for about 3 months because there are some steps I have to go through first and they just have that long of a waiting list because they're so good at what they do.  My doc called them "the specialists of the specialists."  She also ordered me to start back on a medicine I was on back when my migraines were controlled and taking me off a bunch of the ones that clearly aren't working.  And she gave me a set of four shots, Demerol, Phenergan, Toradol, and Decadron, so that I could at least have a few hours where I wasn't registering an 8 or higher on the pain scale.

I was so happy and so relieved by the time we left that office.  No, it's not answers exactly, but it's progress. It's something new to try.  It's a new doctor to see.  It's another chance to find out what is wrong with my head.  I felt like my hope was completely and totally renewed, and I was reminded just how faithful God is at showing up when He knows that I'm feeling doubtful.  I was smiling again.  And I loved the responses I got from my "prayer team".  They may have just been texts, but I could feel them rejoicing with me.  I am so blessed to be surrounded by such a faithful group of friends.  I know I say that a lot, but it's so true.

And all of this happened on the anniversary of my baptism.  Coincidence?  I think not.  :)

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Friday, April 5, 2013

One Year Later: Unending Love, Amazing Grace

I'm starting this post right about the same time that this little old event Sanctuary was starting to gather together in a church in Nashville one year ago today.  It was the start of the night when my life as I knew it completely fell apart and God pieced back together a life I never imagined I'd be able to find.

I still remember everything about that night in crystal clear detail, even without reading the blog recap about it.  I hope I always do.

I remember the sights, the music, the people praising God with complete freedom, sitting next to Bruno shaking as I realized God was doing something huge in my heart.

I remember walking up to part of the ministry team on one side of the stage, unsure if I was allowed to talk to them because they were guys and I'm a girl.  I remember trying to explain what my need was, but barely making it halfway through before tears started uncontrollably pouring down my face.  I remember the four guys surrounding me, praying God's truth into my heart when all I could think at the time is "what is going on right now??"  I remember the sobs making my body shake, but in the good way.  I remember realizing that guy #4 was Joe, and him holding me and encouraging me until I was ready to let go.  I remember telling him I'd never felt more broken in my life.

I remember sitting back down next to Bruno, trying to calm down and stop crying, still unable to figure out what was happening, being so overwhelmed by the fact that I just knew my whole life was going to change before I left that church.

I remember hearing God scream at me to go get baptized (at least it felt like He was screaming) as soon as Adam, the singer, mentioned baptistery pools.  I remember not even looking at Taylor when I asked him where to go.  I remember walking directly into Brennan and not realizing he was one of the guys who had prayed over me until he said hello.  I remember my voice shaking as I asked him if I could get baptized.

I remember my whole body shaking and my hand gripping Brennan's tightly as we walked from the too-hot pool behind the stage to the one in the lobby, and that only partially being because my feet were wet and it was a tile floor.  I remember thinking I couldn't believe it was actually happening.  There, of all places.  I remember smiling as Brennan explained what I was about to do meant exactly.  I remember coming up out of the water and being so overwhelmed I felt numb.  I remember Brennan asking me how I felt and not being able to speak.  I remember the girl I didn't know coming up to hug and congratulate me and still not being able to thank her...or say anything at all.

I remember the importance of what I'd just been a part of not really hitting me until Brennan and I got up onstage, he lifted my arm in the air, and the room packed with hundreds of strangers busted out in applause and cheers, celebrating with me.  It really happened.  And even more than that, I realized that for the first time in my life, I was comfortable and at peace in the middle of a large Christian community.  I knew I was loved by so many people who knew nothing about me.

I remember the looks on Bruno and Taylor's faces after I changed and got back to them.  I remember seeing them celebrate with me and realizing that they really were my brothers, not just my friends or a band I'm a fan of.  I remembering saying I had to have a picture with them, because I wanted to remember how they were there to witness this enormous transformation and celebrate with me.  It's my favorite picture I've ever gotten with those two.

I remember getting a picture with Brennan because I wanted to remember him and how I felt like God was using him specifically to reach me.  A year later, so many ups and downs, and I still treasure the memories we have.  I remember my friends telling me after I got back and showed them the picture that I looked like I was glowing.  I remember thinking that never in my life had I met someone so instantly dedicated to helping me know the Lord better.  I remember making him promise me that he would never stop helping people, and him making me promise that I'd never forget how I felt that night.

I remember getting one picture in front of the pool because I had to remember the place where I was baptized into Christ.

I remember not wanting to leave Taylor and Bruno, knowing that night would be the last time I would see them because I was leaving early the next morning.  I remember the looks on Callie and Phoebe's faces when Taylor told them what God had done.  I remember knowing I had to leave, getting back to the girls' house and laying in bed for close to two hours just reflecting on how one simple night went from "I'm gonna hang out with two of my best guy friends and listen to some good worship music" to "God chased me down, broke me, and I became a member of God's eternal family in the span of a few hours."  I remember wondering why God thought that I was worth it when I'd spent so much of my life hating Him and running as far away from Him as possible, but being so ecstatic about what He had done.  I felt secure, truly, completely, and wholly secure, for the first time in my life.

I pray that night is forever etched into my memory as if it happened yesterday.  Today has been a joyful day as I've reflected on how far God alone has taken me in the span of a year.  He got me back to church.  He got me to trust a church family without fear.  He planted and fostered the desire to read my Bible.  He's taken the gratitude I had for my story before and magnified it a hundred fold as He has brought me countless opportunities, things only He could do, to share my story and tell people of the amazing, merciful, wonderful God that I serve.  He has proven Himself to me time and time again even though He didn't have to, and He has surrounded me with my own "prayer team", a group of Godly, compassionate friends with whom I can be completely open and honest without fear of judgment.

Because I now have the powerful security that only He can provide, I find myself getting less and less freaked out with each medical trial.  When I landed in the hospital just days after my baptism, I was so terrified that I replaced God with Brennan and Taylor.  Now, I find myself learning more every day about how to use my friends as a source of support and not to shove God out of the way in order to rely on them.  I've learned He really is the only one I can rely on.  And because I'm learning that, I think that's why I'm having less bad, scared, weak days and more days where I truly believe that God is in control and fully trust Him.  I am so far from the person I was a year ago, and I'm blessed to have several people who have walked with me ever since that night who aren't shy about reminding me of the transformation they've seen and encouraging me to keep down this path.

This has certainly been a year of testing, trial and growth.  The evil in this world has tested me to see if I would hold on to the faith I have found, and while I wavered at points, I never let go of the God who has kept a tight grasp on me even when I thought He didn't see me.  It's been a year full of ups and downs, for sure, but through it all, I have learned that I have a Father who is always constant and always present.  It's been year of learning to let go of my false belief that I am in control.  I have gone farther in a year than I ever could have imagined, but it's so fitting because that's just the kind of God I have for a Father.

I didn't fully understand all that I had been missing until it was mine.  And now that I've experienced the depths of love and grace that my God has for me, I am never giving up.  After all the blessings He has brought me, after He went to such great lengths to make me His fully and wholeheartedly, I owe Him everything.  And no matter what the enemy tries to do to break me, I know he'll never win.  My heart belongs to God, now and forever.  I am His and He is mine.  And it all started at a brand new church in a city I'd never visited before.  Woodmont Hills will always be an important piece of my story, and I pray I get to go back and worship there in person before 2013 is over.

I first heard this song at church this semester and immediately fell in love with it.  The more I listened to it, the more I thought it reminded me of my baptism and the journey I've been on since, so I think that's a perfect way to end this post.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.  How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.

The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.

My chains are gone.  I've been set free.  My God, my Savior has ransomed me.  And like a flood, His mercy rains.


(If anyone from Sanctuary reads this who was there that night, please know you will always have a special place in my heart.  Thank you for loving this stranger.)

(There will be a medical update tomorrow.  I wanted tonight to be about this and this alone.)

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Thursday, April 4, 2013


There isn't much to say today.

I went to Grammar at 8 am.

I had a 2 hour tutoring session with an international student who doesn't know English all that well.

I ate lunch.

I took a very long nap.

I ate dinner.

I had another tutoring session.

I took a shower.

And then I watched Grey's Anatomy and now Scandal.

And then I'm going to bed because tomorrow is going to be another very long day.

Another test, two appointments.

Here we go again.

Don't know what tomorrow will bring.  Whatever happens, it is well with my soul.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Still the Same

So, uh, today was...not what I expected.

First off, I didn't fall asleep until about 5:30 this morning.  I spent basically the entire night praying, begging God for today to bring me answers, for Him to provide the explanation for these months of constant severe pain so that I could finally get some relief.  The pain is getting harder and harder to deal with, and at the rate things are going, it's looking awfully iffy as to whether or not I'll be able to finish everything I need to for the semester on time.

I felt confident all morning...until I got to the hospital.  As soon as I walked in the doors and headed for the CT scan, I somehow just knew that it was going to be normal.  And it was.  When I saw my neurosurgeon, I explained everything that was going on and what the neurologist had said, and he told me the CT today looked exactly the same as it did in October.  And he showed us the pictures...it did.

Then he started stuttering and stammering as he told me that if my shunt is fine then the problem isn't his concern and the neurologist is going to have to figure it out.  When I told him that my neurologist sent me to get an appointment with him because she doesn't know what to do, all he said was "well, you need to periodically check your shunt, anyway."  Yeah...he doesn't have the greatest bedside manner.  I guess when you're the head of pediatric neurosurgery at basically the best hospital in the world, you don't have to.  I started crying right there in the exam room.  Never thought I'd be crying because my shunt was fine.  He sent me to get an X-ray to check the setting on the valve that controls the shunt, and that was fine, too.  We have a shunt flow test scheduled for Friday, but chances are extremely high that that is going to come back normal, too.  So help from my neurosurgeon is out.  But we also have an appointment with him after the test, and I'm going to ask him if there's another neurologist that he could recommend because I have to find some help.  It's not an option anymore.

After we left Duke, Mom felt so bad for me because I was so upset that I still have no answers that she drove straight to my neurologist to try to see her, but she was packed full, which meant I couldn't even get a Demerol shot for some temporary relief because nurses aren't allowed to do those.  I have an appointment with her Friday afternoon after the Duke stuff, and we're basically going to just beg her to think of something else.  I seriously am that desperate.

And I'll be honest: this afternoon, when all of this was going on, as I was texting an update to all the people who have been faithfully praying for me and this appointment, I was furious.  I was just mad, and I think anyone would be in my shoes.  My headaches started getting worse/more frequent 10 months ago, and they've been 24/7 constant for just shy of 5 now.  I'm so exhausted and I really thought that if anyone would be able to figure out what is wrong, it would be my neurosurgeon.  I sobbed all the way through hospital and during the car rides, screaming at God in my head that this feels like it's slowly destroying me.

I'm not mad anymore.  I still have plenty of questions, but I'm not mad.  I have no choice but to trust God right now because my faith is all I have left; I know that I can't survive this on my own and that I need Him now more than ever.  The thing that is weighing on me the most, though, is that I know full well that He is capable of healing me because He's healed me from so much already, and I really, really don't understand why He's choosing not to.  I don't know why He's saying no when all I'm asking for is to be free from this pain.

But then, I started getting responses from some of the people I texted, and they reminded me of who I am at heart and what I know is true.  God is still good, and I love Him.  And as I felt the love poured out through my friends' words, I was reminded that I am not alone.  I am not alone.  The same God that has saved my life multiple times put these incredible, faithful friends in my life to hold me up when I can't stand on my own.  And that's exactly how I felt today.  I was texting Taylor and I said, "Thanks for helping hold me up.  The enemy is trying to break me."  I was reminded of how Aaron and Hur held Moses' arms up when he couldn't lift them anymore.  These people, these beautiful, patient, thoughtful, caring people, are my Aaron and Hur.  That's a blessing, for sure.

I got to have a quick chat with Kyla when I was in Walmart, and I was just talking to her about how I was feeling about not getting any answers today.  I'm so thankful that I have friends that just listen without judgment.  It never ceases to amaze me that one of them is a girl I've never actually met. :)  While I was listening to something she was saying, I remembered a question I've had before - what good could possibly come out of this mess that is better than the story I could tell if He healed me?  And then I remembered that God had already answered that question today.

One of the people I sent out a text update to after we left Duke was Chris Plekenpol, that pastor in Texas that I've kept in touch with.  He wrote back "Please post on the city your prayer request.  People were REALLY moved by your story."  I may have mentioned it before, but The City is this online community for his church that he asked me to join so I could share my story with his congregation.  I wrote back, "I will tonight when I get back to my computer.  Glad to hear that at least something good is coming from this mess."  He said "It's very good.  Grateful for you."  On a day when I felt like I was falling to pieces, someone whom I have come to really respect and look up to tells me they're grateful for me, and tells me again that my story has had a big impact on people, even people I've never met and probably never will meet.

So many of the people who responded to my text showed great faith when I probably sounded like I was questioning everything.  Even though the results of today felt like a big fat "NO" from God, they encouraged me to continue to pray that that no is actually a "not yet" and my healing will still come.  Because I know that it's possible.  I don't know if I will be healed, but I know and was reminded in spades today that God will use whatever situation, being pain-free or being caught in this pain, to do some really awesome, life-changing stuff that I could never do on my own...like minister to a church in Texas full of complete strangers.

Most importantly, I know that God is still who He has always been.  He never changes.  That's something I can rely on no matter what health complication (or any complication, for that matter) I am facing.  A quote from one of my favorite authors, Angie Smith, sums it up perfectly.  This was her immediate response after she received a heartbreaking, fatal diagnosis for her unborn daughter and a nurse asked her what she was thinking.  It's what I've been saying since I calmed down after the tears stopped this afternoon.  And it's true.  I know it in my soul.

"I think my Jesus is still the same as he was before I walked through that door."

And praise the Lord for that.

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