Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A letter to myself five years ago.

Right now, you're sitting in a hospital bed at Duke with a tube coming out of the back of your skull.  The past week and a half has been a whirlwind of unexpected brain surgeries, a brush with death, blown IVs and all the other fun things that go with being stuck in a hospital, and sheer panic.  You were supposed to move to Campbell five days ago, something you'd been waiting for since you got your acceptance letter because it meant a way out of Swansboro, but that plan got upended when you nearly didn't make it out of that first surgery.  You're going to go, just not in the time you think it will or want it to happen.

See, by the time 2009 is over, you're going to face four more brain surgeries and three more issues that very easily could kill you.  The good news is that they don't.  The bad news is that you're going to be taken on a ride that no one wants to be on.  And it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.  You'll get to go to Campbell for a few weeks, but you'll have to leave just when life starts to feel like it's getting back to normal.  It will feel very much like hell on earth, and you're going to be instantly infuriated by anyone who tries to get you not to refer to this period as such.  It's okay to be angry.  Just try not to take it out entirely on the people around you.  Your mom would do anything, absolutely anything, to take your pain away, and it's not the doctors' fault you keep needing surgery.  And the nurses, the hospital chaplains, they all mean well, they really do.

That God everyone keeps talking to you about?  Hear them out.  I know that you know He's real.  And I know you hate Him.  I get it, you have to have someone to blame for this disaster, for taking away your education, the one thing you think you're good at and good for.  I wish you knew what you're really worth, because it would do so much for the ways that your heart will break over the next few months.  The good news is that you eventually do give yourself to the Lord, you see Him for the ways He carries you through this period.  It'll take time, but I promise that when it happens, it's going to be the best feeling in the world and you'll have an at least slightly better understanding of what you're facing now.

When you finally get out of the hospital in November (there are breaks, but not long ones, this saga won't end for another three months), you're going to be so mentally and emotionally broken from the trauma that you're going to be pretty disgusted by the idea of turning around and going to a Christian university.  You're beyond ecstatic to finally get to go to Campbell and stay there, but you won't forget that you'll be surrounded by talk of God.  That gets better, too.  It's not as suffocating as you expect it to be.

You can't fully understand it now, but going to this Christian university will be the best thing that can happen to you.  Your first college friends will be the niece of a woman your Mom works with (it's not as awkward as it sounds) and her roommates, who bring you to a Bible study.  You pretty much fake your way through it, but you will appreciate these girls simply for being kind to you.  The first year of your college life will mostly be spent recovering from the brain surgeries and then the foot surgeries (oh yeah, those are coming next year, but you ask for them because your feet are in so much pain), so you don't get the full college "experience" at first, but you don't care because you love just being a student there.  You will meet professors who love you, pray for you, make you laugh, make you scream, and everything in between.

But even better than the academics is the friends you will make.  You know how Matt has always told you that it wasn't your fault you got bullied so much, that you weren't the problem?  (Speaking of Matt, you'll not be so in love with him soon enough.  It'll hit you like a ton of bricks one day that all he really is meant to be is your best friend and big brother.  Just wait.)  And you know how no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn't make yourself believe that anyone else would ever love you even close to the way he does?  Well guess what - Matt was right.  You are going to have more love in your life than you know what to do with before too long.  You will find girls who build you up and support you through all the drama.  One girl in particular will become your best friend for life, and the best part is that, in profile, she's exactly the girl who used to make your life miserable. These girls will help you find your voice.  They will be everything you wish girlfriends could be.  They will listen to you talk about crushes, talk to you about family drama, help you get ready for a dance, and they'll trust you enough to come to you for advice for their own lives.  These girls will teach you how to love yourself the way you couldn't before.

And part of me feels like this is even cooler, you will find a group of guy friends in your senior year that you will affectionately call your brothers.  You have to weed through a lot of dramatic boys and some bullying ones, too, to get to them, but when you find them, they will make it more than worth it.  The way that these brothers love you will go a long way in healing the scars from the boys who abused you before.  They will defend you, tease you, teach you, learn from you, appease your major penchant for pictures, give you the biggest hugs, and never let you forget that they love you.  Your insecurity will make you want to question them and their sincerity, but please don't.  They are not the boys from your past.  When you question them anyway, they won't get mad, they won't run.  They somehow instinctively understand you and will make you laugh by saying they don't know why you want to hang out with them.  Bask in your friends' love.  They are only a glimpse of the greater Love.

Speaking of that greater Love, remember how I told you you'll take a hold of it one day?  Yeah.  It'll happen.  In a pretty strange way, no less.  You're going to meet a band at Campbell, visiting thanks to Campbell staff, that turns everything you think you know on its head in the best possible way.  (Just another reason to be thankful you were led to Campbell.)  Your first conversation with them, you're going to be surprised at how different they seem.  It's not that they're Christians, it's that they don't flaunt it, they don't ever preach at you.  You'll see a light in them, and it won't make sense at first, all you'll know is that you want to get to know them better.  And you will, both through the power of social media and your determination to go all over the state to see them in person again.  You'll see them a lot.  They will make it feel safe for you to ask about God and Jesus and Christianity, all the questions you brushed aside after your health trauma and the mistreatment you were dealt by Christians.  They will become such an important part of your life in such a short amount of time that your mom is going to send you on a plane to go visit them.  You'll think it's just for their celebration, but it turns out to be the biggest week of your life, because one night on that trip, you will surrender yourself to God and get baptized in a church of hundreds of strangers and two of your best friends.  It will be a crazy story to tell, but you'll never do it without a huge smile on your face.  Part of you will wish it had happened sooner, but you'll mostly just appreciate that it happened at all.

Another cool gift that comes from meeting those four kids in that band is that they will teach you not to be ashamed of your story.  They will be the first people to show you what good talking about your story can do, and they will only be the spark that lights the flame of your passion for telling people about the miracles God has done in you and for you.  One day, you'll get on a plane to Texas to meet a church of people who were affected by your story and wanted to meet you.  (Never let it be said the internet can't do awesome things.)  Over the next several months, you're not going to want to talk to anyone about the details of the trauma you face, but soon enough, you will hear what people learn from you and from it.  It's going to baffle you tremendously, you'll say over and over again just how unqualified you are to teach people anything about life or God, but every time it happens, you will thank God for using you and grow more determined to tell anyone who listen about what He is capable of.  Take hold of that passion and run with it.

You can't see it now, but where you are right now is not the end of your life.  You're going to be taken out of these ashes and made to see yourself and your life for all the beauty within.  And five years from now, you'll be sitting in your New York City apartment, having graduated Campbell with high honors, about to start chasing your dreams as you begin grad school at NYU.  That seems impossible to you right now, but it's true.

As cheesy as it is, life really does get better.  I'm thankful for your innate stubbornness, which will only be made stronger over the next few months, because you'll make it through.  Your life will never be without medical problems, but they'll be much less complicated.  You'll make it through with one heck of a story to tell and a fire for loving people that you just haven't been capable of up until now.  You have so much to offer the world and the people you will meet, and soon enough, you will see just how much the world and your future have to offer you.

You'll be more than fine.  You're going to be great.  I promise.

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