Monday, October 30, 2017

Windows of Light

Well, all hell broke loose here today.

I can't get into how exactly for several reasons, but suffice it to say that Chelsea has taken her stellar decision-making skills to a whole new level and it's probably going to have ramifications for a long, long time. So that's awesome. And it nearly sent me into a panic attack tonight. Which is really shitty timing, especially seeing as Blake is at our house for who knows how long.

Thank God that I have the best friends on the planet, friends who are more like family than my biological family at this point. An hour with Clayton and 45 minutes with Tunji, and I actually feel like I can breathe again.

My family-friends (yes, I just made that up), they're the ones who actually care about how I'm feeling and are willing to listen. They care about how the stress of everything happening in my life is affecting me. They care about supporting me and lifting me up, instead of telling me basically to just suck it up and deal. They're here through everything, even though there are hundreds of miles between us and they have craziness in their own lives to deal with. They just get me, as stupid and cliché as that sounds. Tunji and I call each other "Siamese twins" for this reason; we're not just incredibly similar, we also have the innate ability to understand each other even when we can't find the words to communicate coherently. I used to be able to talk to my mom like this...until she stopped having the time or energy to care.

I told Tunji that I've spent the past 14 months that I've been in North Carolina taking care of everyone else and their problems and trying to keep them happy and balance everything and putting myself last because I've felt like I don't really have a choice; after all, nobody else seems to care that I'm dealing with severe and constant pain through all of this. You know what Tunji said in return? Two things. One, that he admires me so much because I've been able to keep hold of who I am at heart in the midst of all the crap I've been through - goofy, smart, outgoing, caring, and loving. After all, one of the reasons I stopped myself from attempting suicide is because I didn't want to hurt someone else (him). I haven't given up on trying to live my life and be myself. Two, that I am the most loving and caring person he knows, and I deserve to have someone love me and take care of me. He believes a guy will come along love me the way I want and deserve to be loved, and until then, I have him and so many other people who are going to make sure that I am never alone, no matter where I am.

These two conversations tonight, these were a reminder and comfort I needed that God is still here and God is alive. At the end of our conversation and prayer, Clayton read a blessing that he said he'd never read before but was led to, and when I heard it, all I could say was "God is good." Read it for yourself. Maybe you need it, too.

May you be blessed in the holy names of those
Who, without you knowing it,
Help to carry and lighten your pain.

May you know serenity
When you are called
To enter the house of suffering.

May a window of light always surprise you.

May you be granted the wisdom 
To avoid false resistance;
When suffering knocks on the door of your life,
May you glimpse its eventual gifts.

May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.

May memory bless and protect you
With the hard-earned light of past travail;
To remind you that you have survived before
And thought the darkness now is deep,
You will soon see approaching light.

May the grace of time heal your wounds.

May you know that though the storm might rage,
Not a hair of your head will be harmed.

Typing it out now, one line stands out in particular: "May a window of light always surprise you." These two conversations tonight, they were my windows of light. In the fear and stress, they were reminders that I am not alone, I am loved, there is good in this world, and maybe God isn't as distant as it has seemed lately. They were the light on a hard and dark day.

I think maybe my family is going to need me to be their window of light now more than ever. And it's going to take supernatural strength and peace, because J am tired and overwhelmed trying to do everything on my own hundreds of miles from the people who know and love me best.

Lord, help me. Just, please. Whatever it takes. Help me. Help me help my family. I need you. I'm tired and confused and don't know what to do. But also, thank you for my friends. Thank you for my windows of light. I get it now. I'll try not to forget it next time, but I might need some reminding.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

To Love and Be Loved

"The single desire that dominated my search for delight was simply to love and be loved." - St. Augustine

Yesterday, I got to go back to Campbell for a soccer game and see my boys that are still there. I was counting down to this day, praying that Mom would be well enough to take me. I so desperately needed something to work out in my favor. I honestly wasn't certain it would happen until she actually got out of bed to get ready; it's been a really rough week for her, but she said she toughed it out because she knew how important it was to me.

Being back at that soccer feels like home. Even though I felt so old being surrounded by college students (when did that happen?), it still felt so right to be sitting there watching a team that I have followed for five seasons now.

It was all the more perfect because it was this guy's senior night.

Matt was a true freshman my senior year, but he redshirted that year, so that's how he's still at CU. I was so proud of him to get to see him celebrated after all the work he's put in. 

I was also there to see these two adorable boys.


and Seth

I met them back in January of 2016 when I was visiting Campbell while on break from New York. They had heard about me through Ricky and quickly became my "second generation" of brothers. It's crazy to think that they were freshmen when I met them, and now they're juniors.

And because God was apparently in a really generous mood yesterday, one of my other brothers who graduated last year, Martinez, was actually at the game to see Matt for his senior night, too. Of course I had to get a picture with him. He knew it was coming. ;) 

While I was taking the picture with Matt and Josh, another guy from the team I actually really wanted to meet walked by, so I got everything I wanted out of last night. His name is JJ, and I've basically become his biggest fan. He's a ridiculously talented player, and I really wanted to meet him to just tell him what an incredible player I think he is. He was such a sweetheart, too. I think I made him a little bashful with all the compliments, but hey, I was a little excited. He even reached down and gave me a big hug to say thank you, which I was pleasantly surprised by. Despite the jokes the rest of my brothers like to crack, I never make strangers hug me. Even I'm not that weird. ;) But he and I got to talking on Facebook today, and he told me that Matt, Josh, and Seth had told him some about me, so I semi-jokingly said I was more than willing to adopt him as my brother, too, and he said "I'm in!" so I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship. :) 

I was on such an emotional high when we got home last night around 12:30 that it took me a sweet forever to fall asleep. This is what my boys do to me. It's not so much being back at Campbell as it is being with them. Which is weird, really, since Matt is the only one (Martinez, too, but I'm talking about of the guys still on the team) who was there at Campbell when I was there and witnessed what I went through, and by the end of next weekend at the latest, the only guys I will know on this team will be guys I met after graduated and through association from other guys. But as I was telling JJ today, the guys from my year pretty much saved my life (there's an understatement), so I see it as me just passing on the love, and it's created this bond that can't really be explained to anyone who isn't part of it. They're my boys, my brothers, my family. Just as much as anyone who shares my DNA is. When I'm with them, everything feels okay for a change. It's like I can forget everything that is going wrong, everything that is stressing me out, everything that is negative because the love that I feel both for and from them is completely overwhelming in the best possible way. It's not lost on me for a second how lucky I am.

To love and be loved like this, well, it's everything.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

It's been a while.


I kept meaning to blog, but the past two weeks have been kinda rough, so the days kept slipping by, and it just kept becoming tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

Let's catch up, shall we?

We have air again, as of last Friday, so three cheers for that. That was a long two and a half weeks, but it just breaks my heart even more for what the people of Puerto Rico are going through. The timing of that definitely kept it all in perspective (most of the time).

I went to the neurosurgeon last Thursday. None of the tests he ordered showed anything, so he's pretty much at a loss for what to do or what is going on with my head. There is one more test he could do, but he's really hesitant because there's a high risk of infection, especially with me being a MRSA carrier, and we're pretty sure this test is how I contracted staph meningitis back when I was 17. Plus, he's not confident that this test will produce any results, since the other tests didn't, so putting me at such a great risk for what will probably tell us nothing seems like a dangerous idea. So I had him fax all of his records back to my neurologist, and I'm waiting for a call from him to see if he has any ideas on what to do. I can't afford the copay for the Botox (it's way more expensive than the Botox I did when I was still at Campbell), so I don't know if he has any other ideas. If he doesn't, I may go through with this other test from my neurosurgeon just to try something instead of giving up, because I am tired of being in this much pain. Otherwise, I'm kind of screwed.

Last weekend, what I thought was just allergies and my typical sinus issues moved into my chest and turned into a full blown respiratory infection. So Monday, I got to go to the doctor and get a stronger antibiotic than I'd been on two weeks before, a steroid inhaler, and meds for my nebulizer machine. Woo. Always something with me.

Most of the week flew by because I've slept a lot because I've felt like crap (as one does), but Thursday, I did make it to my psychiatrist, and she changed my depression. I haven't seen her in two months, because at my last appointment, things were going well enough that we thought I didn't need to come back in a month, but things have gone so downhill with me mentally since then that I knew I needed to change something. Luckily, she is awesome and didn't even question my request once I told  her about how bad things had gotten. I told her that I talk to my therapist every week, I take my prescribed medication every day, I do everything I'm physically capable of to take care of myself mentally, so I have to try changing meds, because I can't keep feeling this awful. So we'll see how this goes.

Hands down the highlight of the past two weeks, though, was the two hours I got to spend on Facebook video chat with Clayton today. I know I say this all the time, but I am so, so, so lucky and thankful that he is my best friend. No one makes me laugh harder or teaches me more, let alone all in the same conversation, than he does. He is one of the few consistently good things in my life, and one of the very few people that make me feel completely safe and free from judgment. I can talk to him about my relationship with God, my struggles, my anger, my frustration, especially with everything that's been going on with my head and the doctors being stumped, and he doesn't shame me for any of it. Instead, he reminds me not to shame myself, like I am prone to do. But what was different about our conversation today is that he actually put on his "Spiritual Director" hat (his words, not mine) and asked me about my prayer life and gave me some advice on how to broaden it and change my perspective on who I see God as in the midst of my current struggles. I'm used to talking through different stories and passages in the Bible with him, and he's taught me a lot about theology, but this was something totally new. And I loved it and totally appreciated it. He doesn't want me to stay in this rut that I've been in for a little while now of feeling angry at and abandoned by God. The level to which he cares for every facet of my wellbeing (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) is very comforting and humbling.

I'll tell you one thing: I would be lost without my people. That much I know for sure.

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Love That Lasts {A Review}

For the record, I got an advanced PDF copy of the book for being on the launch team, but that has absolutely no bearing on anything I'm about to write. All of this is 100% genuine.

Love That Lasts: How We Discovered God's Better Way for Love, Dating, Marriage, and Sex

Love That Lasts is the upcoming book from Jeff and Alyssa Bethke. Jeff is the author of Jesus > Religion and It's Not What You Think, and Alyssa is the co-author of Spoken For, but this is the first book that they have written together. After being part of all three of their previous launch teams, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this one, too. The Bethkes have been teachers to me from the very beginning of my walk as a Christian, and as they grow and create more work, they seem to say exactly what I need at that time. They have been such blessings in my life, and I'm so thankful to be able to help them out.

This book walks through Jeff and Alyssa's stories, from their childhoods, to their meeting, dating, engagement, and marriage. They came from polar opposite backgrounds pretty much, so from the get-go, the book gives you the feeling of no matter where you come from or what you've been through, there's something here for you, because they get it. Jeff is admirably raw about the darkness of his childhood, the mistakes he made, the ways he objectified and mistreated women, and Alyssa gives an inside look to the "purity culture" and shows that those "good Christian kids" that you think have it all together and know how to follow the rules are just as broken and hurting as the "outsiders" by confessing an eating disorder she struggled with for years. These two waste no time in telling the ugly truth, in showing you where they started so they can take you on the journey of how far God has brought them.

The chapter that stood out to me the most was Chapter 4, "Riding Solo," because, well, I am currently riding solo and have been my entire life. Honestly, before I read this chapter, it always baffled me to know that Alyssa had been single her whole life until she met Jeff. She's beautiful (seriously), kind, smart, funny, I didn't get how she had never dated anyone before Jeff...Then, I read the first few sentences of Chapter 4: 

"I've often heard it said that there are girls boys date, and there are girls boys marry. Well, growing up, I fell into the "girls boys marry category" - the non-flirty girls who like to have fun but are the deeper, quieter, more stable types. Which, looking back, was a good thing, but at the time, I thought it sucked. Guys, I just wanted to go on a date...But I was the kind of girl you only got involved with if you were ready to get down on one knee. And that ruled out most - or all - guys." 

And I was like ohhhhh, I get it. I'm the stable one, the one who always ends up in the friend zone, the sister. I'm not quiet (by any means), and I like to have fun, but not the kind of fun that screams "date me!", at least, not in this age. I went on a few dates when I was in New York, but I either got "friend zoned," or the guy decided he wanted a casual thing and it never turned into anything. So I've basically lived with this feeling of "when is it going to be my turn?!" as I watch all of my friends find their person, get engaged, get married. But as I read through Chapter 4, it felt like Alyssa was speaking straight to me. 

God is giving you what is best in this very moment. You can trust His good work in your life. God is writing a good story just for you. It's your story. It doesn't look like anyone else's story. It's unique and set apart and beautiful. Even if it doesn't feel beautiful or is not what you would have written, it's good, and if you let Him, He will bring you into joy that you never thought possible.

I know some are still longing, though. Still waiting. As you hope in God, as you fight to believe His promises, you can pray. Run to God with everything. Roll your every burden to the Lord. Tell Him your ache. Your pain. Your longing. Your hopes and dreams. Your deep desires. Cry out to Him. Give thanks to Him. Lift your potential husband up to Him. Ask Him to make you into the person that He wants you to be. Pray for your future spouse. Pray faithfully. Pray for their heart, their character, their mind, their hopes, for healing and wholeness. You get the opportunity to join God in the work that He's doing in their life! It's not in vain.

Sometimes, I forget the fact that I've said countless times that I want God to have control of my story. It's like I've said it about every aspect of my life except this. This chapter, and these quotes in particular, reminded me that there is a purpose in this season, and that I don't have to just sit and wait impatiently. I can actually do something, and maybe while doing that, not only will I grow closer to God, I'll find the peace I desperately want.

The other section of the book that spoke to me the most were Alyssa and Jeff's chapters on sex. (Each chapter in the book is written by one of them rotating between them.) Let's face it, your sex drive doesn't wait to show up until you're married. (Life would be a lot less complicated if it did!) And it's something that I've been struggling with, especially in the past year or so, but honestly, my view of sex has been twisted since I was a young teenager. I had decided I was going to wait until I was married to have sex, and my mom told me she thought I shouldn't do that.

As Alyssa says in Chapter 14:

"While everyone's experience with sex is different, I would argue that regardless of where you fall on the spectrum - multiple partners, living with your boyfriend or girlfriend, abuse, porn, going to third base, or falling on the other side of the spectrum as a virgin, never have kissed someone, wearing a purity ring - we all need healing in some way in this area."

I couldn't agree more. It feels like either sex is seen as some taboo thing not to be discussed, or it's casual and meaningless, and there's no in-between. And it ends up being the thing a lot of us get in our heads as the way to get the intimacy we want, because we don't know how to get it any other way. When I was in New York, I went further with a guy, basically just short of sex, than I should have, and I regret it now, basically because I wanted him to want me. (You can imagine how well that worked out.)

While Alyssa came from the purity culture, Jeff came from the world of casual sex and talks about how that damaged his view on women.

Sex, girls, and the chase consumed me. I can say that now, after looking back, but when I was nineteen, I know for a fact I wouldn't have admitted - or even known - that was why I woke up every morning. But it was what made me tick. Ultimately it was about gratification. Satisfaction. That brief moment in time when pain, shame, and guilt seem to be a distant memory. Euphoria. That moment of connectedness. A hollow one, though. A cheaper one. A bastard stepchild version of true nakedness.

In Chapter 5, he tells in detail how his porn addiction started, grew, and created "monster-like qualities" in him.

I became incredibly selfish. Fast tempered. Had a horrible view of women that played itself out in every single relationship before Alyssa.

But, as only God could pull off, his YouTube career started when he wrote his first poem, a poem called "Sexual Healing," for an open mic night and people actually loved it and related to it. In Chapter 15, he writes:

I realized just how hungry we all are - for intimacy, for connection, for life. And how we know deep in our hearts that the current promise of sex isn't cutting it, no matter how hard we fake it. There is a better way. And Jesus is inviting us into it with open arms.

While I couldn't relate to everything they said right now, because I'm not dating, engaged, or married, there is wisdom in this book that I know I can save and use for years to come, when I am in a relationship and marriage. There truly is something in this book for everyone. For married couples, to help you through issues you may not even realize you have. For engaged couples, to give you tools and help prepare you for marriage. For dating couples, to give you wisdom about your relationship, your future, and whether this is the relationship/person God intends you to be in/with for life. For single people like me, who may have made an idol out of marriage and relationships and need to remember that God is here, and He is first, even when we feel forgotten or ignored.

And for couples, there are also Love That Lasts workbooks, one For Him, one For Her, written individually by Jeff and Alyssa, with exercises to help strengthen your relationship and help you learn how to love and serve your partner better.

I truly believe that this is a book that will impact your life and your heart. We are creatures that desire love. We all want relationship and intimacy. We want to love and be loved. I believe this book will help us learn how to seek, find, grow, and keep the kind of love that God has wanted for us all along. The tools and wisdom in this book can help each of us find Love That Lasts.

Love That Lasts: How We Discovered God's Better Way for Love, Dating, Marriage, and Sex by Jefferson "Jeff" and Alyssa Bethke releases on October 10, 2017. You can pre-order it at their website here, on Amazon here, or at Barnes & Noble here

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