What’s More Important?

I’m taking a break from my series on pride (although is it really a series if I’ve been putting off writing about it for two months?) to share something God has been hitting me with lately, and finally clicked today. I’ve never thought of myself as a dreamer. I don’t have dreams, I have goals, to-do lists, and plans. Dreams seem very ambiguous to me. However… I have always had one dream: to be a wife and a mother. I’m hopelessly in love with the idea of love. And children are wonderful, crazily energetic, vibrant, and unique; children have a way of refocusing your perspective. There’s never been any doubt in my mind I would eventually fill these roles.

Until now.

Since the news my syrinx has come back and multiplied, I’ve been doing more research. People who have one syrinx in their lifetime are not encouraged to have children, if the do, they are required to have a c-section as a natural birth could cause the syrinx to reform. But since I’ve now had multiple syrinx within the same year, it is strongly advised I avoid getting pregnant completely, as it would be life threatening.

Now, at this stage in my life–no potential relationship, still in college, living at home with my parents, abstinence, ect–this isn’t a problem. But what it does do, is conflict with the long-held dreams I now see (partially) crumbling before me. Because when I said I wanted to be a mother, I had always assumed I would have children biologically. It was part of the dream.

But what happens when your dream fragments into pieces?

My dad has always told me, “sometimes God gives you a dream, and then takes away the dream, to see which is more important, Him or the dream.” I had never seen the dream taken away on this magnitude, and so I’ve never actually sacrificed my dreams for God.

Again, until now.

I’ve been wrestling with this for days. How could God do this? I would make a fantastic mother! Would my future husband want to make that sacrifice? Could I even ask that of him? Will I even get married? I can’t live alone! I’m home alone right now and all of the lights are on and chairs are in front of the doors, and I’m twenty years old for goodness sake! I can’t imagine.

But then today, after a lot of prayer, God revealed the answer. But only because I was listening.

You see, I love driving; I love taking road trips by myself. There is just something so freeing in the knowledge that I can take any route I want, stop at as many ice cream parlors I see, and listen to whatever music hits me. It relaxes me, and I feel closest to God when all I have to focus on is Him and the road. So today, on my mini day trip to Atlanta, God revealed this to me:

God doesn’t convict us of something, and He doesn’t take away the dream, without giving us the strength to comply.

However, that’s just it, it’s His strength, not ours, and we have to ask Him for it. So as I sat there, driving along I85 North, hoping a Starbucks would come into view, I realized, it’s okay. It is okay if God doesn’t plan for me to have children. It’s okay if God’s plan for me doesn’t include marriage. You know why? Because there are so many children God has already given that I can love on. Because God has given me an entire Bible with the greatest love stories ever told. Because God is more important.

I’m not saying I’ll never get married, and I’m not saying I’ll never have kids; there are a multitude of ways to have kids that do not require getting pregnant. And who wouldn’t want to marry me?! (Well, besides like everyone.) What I’m saying, is that I am laying down my dreams at His feet, because God is more important.

So I ask you, what is more important: God or the dream?


Lessons in Pride: Why ME? (Part 2)

Last semester–after what felt like the most difficult recovery ever–I met with one of the pastors at my church to ask a seemingly simple question. Why is this happening to me? I mean I’m a pretty good person, I don’t do anything illegal or commit any of the “major” sins, so why was this terrible, horrible, miserable thing happening to me?! And when was it ever going to end? Keep in mind, this was before the arm and rib stuff started happening.

I didn’t realize this was a prideful attitude; I thought I was justified in asking “why me?” I was operating with the belief that I was “too good” or bad things to happen to me. But what makes me so special that I should be immune to the realities of the world we live in? We live in a fallen, sinful world where pain and sadness and heartbreak are all part of our earthly life. So rather than be surprised when bad things happen to us, and rather than asking “why us?” we should expect these difficulties and this pain and instead, ask ourselves, “why not us?”

In reality, we should welcome these experiences. I’m not saying we have to be happy about pain, but I am saying we should look at it in a different light.

I never expected to have brain surgery. Or chemical meningitis on the brain. Or a rib removed. All in seven and a half months. But I did expect to be used by God and for His purpose, and that’s exactly what He’s doing.

When I met with my pastor he reminded me of the story in the book of John when Jesus and the disciples came across a man who had been blind since birth. The disciples asked Jesus why he was blind, if he sinned or his parents sinned. And Jesus replied, “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him,” (John 9:3 NLT). At the time this didn’t mean much, but then, last week in my quiet time, I read Amos 3:6, “Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it?” And it got me thinking. God is sovereign and He knew exactly what was coming my way, and because Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” is also true, we can conclude that the pain and suffering we go through is not only known by God, but planned by God, all to show His glory.

This conclusion is incredibly humbling. But it means NOTHING if we let our pride get in the way.

If we live under the assumption that everything negative that ever happens to us is undeserved and unfair, we will never allow ourselves to see all of the purpose and possibility that can come as a result. I am thankful for all of these painful experiences, because I am a different and stronger person in God as a direct result of each and every one of them. I try each day to actively pursue a Godly character, to live as a Godly example, and to follow God’s path, and I can honestly say I did not do the same eight months ago.

Next time you’re in the midst of incredible pain, suffering, or heartbreak, I want to encourage you to look around and see God in your circumstances. Try to see how He planned it for His glory and for His purpose for your life. Do this, and instead of asking “why you?” I promise you’ll instead wind up asking, “why not you?”

God bless,


My Lessons in Pride (Part 1)

My next surgery is looming at three weeks away. This time they’ll be removing my top, right rib, and no they can’t make a boyfriend out of it, my dad already asked. As I get closer to surgery I’m getting closer to God–literally and figuratively. I’m hopefully just kidding about the literally part; the surgery is supposed to be pretty safe. Anyway, God is using this time to teach me a lot about pride.

I have a pride problem.

But, it’s not in the overly boastful, puffed-up-chest, obvious pride problem. No, this is much worse. I have the type of pride problem that doesn’t believe I have a pride problem but thinks I’m as humble as they come. I pretty much embodied false humility.

Stephen Smith wrote a blog post that both defines and includes signs of false humility, and I identified with more than one of these. For the longest time I’ve thought that I earned and deserved every accomplishment and achievement that I encountered. I never acknowledged God’s hand in my abilities, circumstances, or successes.  1 Peter 5:6 states, “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor,” (NLT). I wasn’t humbling myself before God, I was relying on my own efforts and abilities because I believed them to be stronger than they were, and stronger than God. See what I mean? Pride issues.

But then something happened. For a few weeks now, God has been opening my eyes to my pride problems through my quiet time, through speaking with others, through sermons and Bible studies, and through circumstances. Piece by piece it was all coming together. Then, last Wednesday, I saw the big picture.

For Spring Break my dad took me down to my sister’s house to help watch the kids. My sister and her family live in a suburb outside of Orlando, FL and they have annual passes to both Disney and Universal. So on Wednesday, we all packed up and headed to Universal Studios for the afternoon. After riding both Harry Potter 4D rides and grabbing some dinner, my brother-in-law took the kids home so my sister and dad could ride roller coasters, and I could go back to Harry Potter World. My dad and sister are OBSESSED with roller coasters and I, in my twenty years of living, had never ridden one. So for some unknown reason that I will never understand, I decided to join them on a roller coaster. We waited in line for maybe ten minutes so I didn’t really have time to talk myself out of it, and during the ride I kept my eyes closed and head back the entire time so it really wasn’t that bad! Except after we got off, I was dizzy, my head felt like it was going to explode from built up pressure, I was incredibly nauseous, I couldn’t walk in a straight line, and it just kept getting worse. Then I remembered…


Yes, it wasn’t until after I made this INCREDIBLY STUPID DECISION that I realized it could be seriously dangerous to my health. I immediately started googling and found dissenting advice from “medical professionals,” AKA wikipedia and WebMD. Some said no roller coasters after brain surgery for six weeks, some said six months, some said six years, and some said never again. Some people said it would most likely cause a subdural hematoma, some people said the pre surgery symptoms would return. I was freaking out and couldn’t walk very well so my brilliant sister went and got me a wheelchair to ride back to the car in. (Side note. If you ever want to be humbled, have your dad wheel you across the entirety of Universal Studios while you cry and little children literally stare and point at you.)

The whole time we were waiting on the wheelchair my dad and I prayed. I have never before in my life prayed intensely and without ceasing, but I did that night. I finally realized I’m weak and stupid and am not fit to make my own life decisions. I prayed that God would heal whatever damage might have been done, that He would take away my pain, and that He would forgive me. I finally realized I’m not worthy of His grace and mercy, but I’m so thankful He gives it to me anyways. I finally stopped relying on my own efforts and strengths and relied on Him. And let me tell you, it was a beautiful thing.

My mom and dad had decided to take me to the ER to ease my worrying, but I fell asleep in the car on the way so my dad just took me to my sister’s house instead. The next morning I woke up for the first time in a long time without a migraine, and I praised God.

God uses my health to humble me, because it’s how He shows me how truly weak I am. The Chiari Malformation, the Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, the daily and multiple migraines all serve as a very constant reminder that I’m weak and frail and have nothing to be prideful for, but that only in God am I made strong and secure.

Now just to clarify, I’m not saying I have achieved humility, I’m pretty sure that would be counterproductive. I’m just saying I finally acknowledge I’m not nearly humble enough. I know now that God could never elevate me or use me how He wants or needs with the sin of pride that has been in my heart. I don’t want that or anything else to stand in the way of God’s plan or glory. I do also want to say that we can’t use our weaknesses we acknowledge as a justification and excuse for our sinful actions or behaviors (Romans 5:20-6:2). God has revealed a lot on pride to me, so I’m going to do a series on my lessons in pride, as you’ve probably gathered from the title.

“Seek to do what is right and to live humbly,” Zephaniah 2:3 NLT

Picking Up Your Cross Daily

Lately I’ve been hearing the phrase, “my cross to bear,” repeatedly. Every time I hear it or read it somewhere it sticks out, grabs my attention, and demands my thought. My dad was driving me up to Tuscaloosa a week or so ago, and since he reads through the Bible approximately four to five times each year, I asked him what it meant. Now maybe you’re thinking, “it’s pretty self explanatory, Madison, how on earth would you not know what it meant.” To which I respond, “maybe it’s not, please keep reading.”

All of a sudden, my dad got really passionate about this topic of conversation. He raised his voice, spoke with a quicker pace, and–to be honest–kind of freaked me out. He told me that we often associate this phrase with a negative connotation and it is normally tied to something that wears us down. For example, “I have daily migraines, but that’s my cross to bear.” Now there are thousands of examples, but since I have a migraine as I write this, it was the first thing to come to mind. So I asked my dad why it’s a bad thing, thinking it is a reference to Christ carrying the cross alone. I mean dying on the cross is a pretty heavy burden. But he explained, dying on the cross was not Christ’s burden, it was His purpose.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, He sent His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus Christ was sent specifically to Earth to save all of us from our sin. His purpose was to die on the cross so we could have life. The cross was not Christ’s burden. Jesus Christ knew his death upon the cross was God’s purpose for His life, and Christ surrendered His will to God’s will. In the garden of Gethsemane Christ prayed to God, “‘My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'” (Matthew 26:39 ESV) Yes, Jesus did many incredible miracles and taught many powerful sermons and told many illustrative parables. He did additional great acts of glory, but His ultimate purpose in life was to die for us.

When Christ told us in Luke 9:23 ISV, “‘If anyone wants to come with me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross every day, and follow me continuously,'” He was not telling us to pick up our burdens and carry them by ourselves, He was calling us to live for God’s purpose for our lives. By picking up our crosses daily and bearing them, we are surrendering our lives to God and submitting to His will. We are agreeing to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, and that’s not a burden, but a blessing. God has a plan for each and every one of our lives, but because He has given us free will, we get to decide whether or not we pick up the cross–whether or not we surrender to Him and live out the purpose and plans He has for us. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV tells us, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” And once we pick up our crosses, once we submit to God’s plans for our lives, He never abandons us, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippines 1:6 NIV)

This is incredibly humbling. To think, the God of the universe took time to create a plan and a purpose for my life, He gives me the choice to follow it or not, and–if I chose it–He molds and shapes and invests in me so that I can fulfill His plan in the fullest, most glorifying way possible. How on earth could this be seen as a burden?! But when we look at our crosses as a burden we disrespect God and do a disservice to ourselves. When we see following God and His plan for our lives as a burden, we begin to look at the Bible as a list of do’s and don’t’s. We begin to see everything God calls us to give up–money, pride, comfort, sin, ect.–as us loosing out, rather than trading up. Yes, God does call us to live differently. There are several verses in Romans illustrating this. Romans 8:6, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Associating the cross with a burden rather than a purpose leaves us with a perspective that will be more quick to resent God and slower to submit to Him. Now I’m not saying that carrying our cross will always be pleasant. Sometimes it will be painful and hard and we will cry out to God in anguish. But we are refined through pain. And through pain, we are made stronger.

So what does it look like to pick up our cross and carry it daily?
1. It means reading our Bible every day to hear from God.
2. It means praying constantly. Prayer is how we align our will with God’s will.
3. It means self-reflection–frequently asking if we are living in a way God can use to glorify Him. If not, it means changing (with God’s help).

If you want to know if you’re picking up your cross and carrying it daily, ask yourself, if God called you to give up your dreams and wants and desires for Him, would you do it?

I’ve decided to pick up my cross daily, and I pray you do too. I’ve decided to see my cross–as painful as it is sometimes–as a blessing and not a burden. Again, I pray you do too.

How vs. Why

So my body is trying to kill me again.

I really thought this was over, I thought my health issues were in the past, and I thought it was all about recovery from here on out. Unfortunately, that isn’t even close to being the case.

Last Monday, I was readmitted to the hospital after I lost the use of my right hand again. We thought it was a relapse of before, something I didn’t even know was a possibility until last week. In actuality, it has nothing to do with my brain surgery, and I am currently without a diagnosis after seeing five neuro specialists, having six different tests run, and having been told “I don’t know” seven different times last week. This morning I passed the ultrasound and do not have any blood clots or blockages, so now I am looking for a second opinion.

Throughout all of this, it’s easy to ask God “why?” It is incredibly easy to try and figure out why He is withholding healing from me. Because honestly, if He wanted to heal me right now, He could. Undoubtedly. No questions asked. But He isn’t. Today marks one week that I have had these symptoms again, and there does not seem to be a diagnosis anywhere on the horizon. Am I frustrated? Absolutely. Am I scared? Not remotely.

Six months ago the fact that God was withholding healing from me would have driven me to cry out to Him asking why He was doing this to me. And I did. I wondered why he wasn’t with me. Why was He forcing me through all of this? Why was He interrupting my carefully constructed life? Why wasn’t He there?

But this time it’s different. Romans 9:20 ESV says, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘why have you made me like this?'” God made me with this condition that has existed since birth, and He made me with a defective what ever it is that is causing my health problems this time, and me asking Him why is pointless, because the answer is obvious.

Romans 9:23 ESV tells me why, stating God made me this way, “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”

He is sovereign, He knew exactly when and why this would happen. And it’s for His glory. I have been changed by this experience. Through all of this, God has given me a character and wisdom that I would have never thought possible. I thank Him daily, not only for saving my life, but for changing it.

So what now?

Yes, I am still without a diagnosis, but I am constantly searching for one. Until then, instead of asking “why,” I will ask God “how?”

How can I use my situation for His glory? How can I grow closer to Him? How can I align my will with His will? How can I show His glory to others?

Psalm 86:12 exclaims, “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.” This is what I’m doing. I thank God daily, multiple times a day, wholeheartedly, and I will live a life that glorifies Him. Because without Him, I would not have life, physically or spiritually.

I challenge you to join me in this change of perspective. Earthly life is hard. Suffering isn’t easy and and it’s scary to surrender to God. But without Him, we do not have life. Moses told God in Exodus 33:15, “‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” Moses acknowledged that being in the middle of the desert with God is better than being in the promised land without Him. That faith and viewpoint is hard. But how incredible would our lives be if we lived that way? It’s what I strive for, and I hope you do too.

We have faulty bodies. We live in a world of sin. Bad things happen to godly people. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use everything terrible that is thrown at us for His glory. I’m finished with asking “why,” and I will continue asking God “how.” I pray you will do the same.

So my body is trying to kill me again, but really, what else is new?

Twenty Phone Calls Too Many

This week I called my dad twenty-one times. Twenty-one. And all but three times began and/or ended with me in tears. Why?

I went back to school this week.

After a difficult weekend with the speech team, and the couple of days returning to actual classes, it’s safe to say I have been emotionally drained and extremely stressed. Which probably explains the four migraines I’ve had this week. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it. I told my parents that it was all too much, that I wasn’t going to be able to stay here the rest of the semester, and I begged them to let me come home. I asked if they would let me come live at home while I worked some sort of retail job and took online classes.

They said yes.

But they also told me–repeatedly and with conviction–they believe I am exactly where God wants me to be. And I told them it didn’t feel like it. Now I’ve been reading my Bible daily for the last few months. I’ve been journaling, praying, and working my hardest to live God’s Word daily. But the last week I didn’t feel like God was anywhere near me. I felt isolated, alone, and completely broken.

And then something wonderful happened.

Yesterday I was reading in 2 Samuel, and in chapter 18, King David’s son, Absalom, is killed. Joab was leading the troops of Israel when this occurs, and knowing David will be distraught and the deliverer of this news will not receive a warm welcome, he sends a random soldier to David to tell him of his son’s death. But Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, says to Joab that Ahimaaz must also go to David to tell him of his son’s being killed. Joab says to Ahimaaz, “‘Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?'” And Ahimaaz says, “‘Come what may, I will run.'”

Come what may, I will run. 

This verse hit me like nothing else I had read in days. Ahimaaz knew that the task before him was not going to be pleasant. He knew he would experience a father’s great pain at losing his son. But Ahimaaz knew he needed to go and tell David that his son had been delivered from his enemies by the Lord (verse 19), and trusting God’s mercy and guidance, Ahimaaz ran, and he reached King David before the original messenger.

This verse and chapter is profoundly impactful. It helped me understand two lessons God is teaching me.

1. Trusting God is a choice. I’ve always thought trust is a feeling. But it’s not. It’s making the choice to put our fears, insecurities, worries, doubts, and all of the unknowns we experience aside and know God is bigger than all of them combined. It’s reminding ourself every second that we start to get consumed with fear that God is above it all. It’s praying that God fills us with His peace and comfort when we’re the broken and frail humans that we are. It’s finding our strength in Him, not in ourselves. Or our feelings. I’ve always feared the unknown, and this week was full of firsts and unknowns. I did not have the “Come what may, I will run” mentality. I didn’t have it, because I wasn’t choosing to trust God. I tried to feel God’s presence, instead of knowing and trusting He would never abandon me in my time of need. So now I choose to trust God. And it is a choice I make daily.

2. Our feelings are deceitful. When I was questioning why I felt alone, logically I knew God had not abandoned me. I knew He was there, and I knew am where God wants me to be. And if He wants me somewhere else, He will close and open doors accordingly. But I was focused on the feelings that I am sure the sinful part of me was influencing. Because the more I was falling to fear and doubt, the farther I was moving myself from God. We are not slaves to our feelings. We have a will that is influenced by God’s will–when we allow it to be. And I have recently experienced that when the two wills are aligned, and we do what God wants, regardless of feelings, that the will and the actions then influence our feelings. Once I decided to trust God, and my will was aligned with Him and I was doing what I know He wanted me to be doing, I felt satisfied, content, and accomplished. Crazy, huh?

So this coming week I will still call my parents daily. But seven times is a vast improvement from twenty-one.

The Only Rule I’ve Ever Wanted to Break

My dad always had one rule about church, and he told it to us every Sunday, “you have to go to church until you want to go to church, then I won’t make you go anymore.”

This would always blow mine and my brother’s mind. To us, either way he got what he wanted because regardless we would end up going to church! We didn’t understand and would try to bargain with him, but after a few years it became obvious he wasn’t going to relent.

Then, on a mission trip to Nashville the summer before I started high school, I was saved. And suddenly, I wanted to go to church; every Sunday and Wednesday I was there. And my dad was happy. Until one day, I decided I didn’t want to go to church, and true to his word, he let me stay home. One Sunday turned into two, and then into three, until I was only going sporadically at best. What had changed?

It got hard.

By “it” I mean Christianity. When I was saved I assumed the “trusting/obeying” part of a relationship with God came naturally, that it was something inherent all Christians came with and was activated upon salvation. Boy was I wrong.

The next few years I had a lukewarm relationship with God. On the outside, I seemed to be on fire for God, in reality, I wasn’t even close. I wasn’t reading my Bible regularly, I wasn’t praying, I wasn’t trusting, and I definitely wasn’t obeying. But if anyone asked, I was doing all of the above.

It wasn’t until about three weeks after my brain surgery that I even realized it.

I understand this is strange. One would think I would realize the error of my ways and pray for forgiveness before I went under the knife. But I’m stubborn, and this wasn’t the case. Until I saw the picture of the back of my head, until I saw the eighteen staples and sixteen stitches and lack of hair, I didn’t realize how serious my surgery was. It wasn’t until I was trying to decide whether or not to go back to school, and it wasn’t until I was on my knees because I had fallen for the fifth time that day since my legs were so weak that I realized I hadn’t even been close to trusting God in years.

The next day we went to church; afterward my mom and I went shopping. In the middle of Loft I started crying hysterically. It would take all of my fingers and toes to count how many questioning looks I got that day. However I still love Loft enough to continue shopping there regardless of this mildly humiliating breakdown. Anyway, my dad came and picked me up, and in the car I confessed all of my weaknesses, my short-fallings, and how I had failed God and our relationship. He quickly drove us to a strong woman of faith in our church who recently and unexpectedly lost her husband. She’s been doing incredibly well, and attributes it all to her trust in God. So I sat with her, and we talked. She gave me invaluable wisdom I will never forget.

How can I expect to trust and obey God completely if I don’t know and love Him first? 

Trusting and obeying God is not inherent. It’s not in our “Christianity DNA.” Like any relationship, we have to establish trust through first knowing God and His character. Trust and obedience is a product of discipline. 

So the first step to trusting and obeying God completely is to know God. We do this through reading the Bible. Daily. The Bible tells us what God loves and what He hates. It’s like God’s Facebook page, His Twitter account, and MySpace all in one. In His Word we can find everything He loves and everything He hates. Proverbs 2:5 (ESV) reads, “You will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

I’ve been participating in a Bible study that follows the life of Moses. If you want to truly learn God’s character read Exodus. I know, unexpected. But reading all of the different laws God commands taught me more about God’s character than I ever expected. I learned of His compassion. His unfailing love. His mercy. His grace. His sovereignty. His power. Most of all I learned that I don’t deserve any of it. But He gives it to me anyways, even though He doesn’t have to.

I challenge you to read the Bible daily. Just start reading a chapter of Proverbs a day, it doesn’t have to be big, just start to develop a habit of it. Eventually that habit turns into a hunger. And if Moses could get up early for time with God at eighty years old, I definitely can at twenty. And you can too.

Once we’re reading daily and knowing God, that knowledge of His character turns into a love for His ways. When I was first saved, it was love-at-first-sight. I really did love God as my Lord and Savior. However, like any relationship, a relationship with God takes effort and a determination to know Him if we want that love to last and develop into something deeper.

And finally, once we love God and know His ways, we want to obey Him.

Crazy, right? Right. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you,” (Psalm 119:11 ESV). “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments,” (Psalms 112:1 ESV). Now I really do want to follow His commandments, and I hate sin, because I’ve learned God has set these commandments to protect me, not hinder me. I learned this, so I trust He has my best interests at heart, and He has a plan for my life. So I will obey him, because I trust Him, because I love Him, and most of all, because I know Him.

So now I want to go to church. Again.

Got Compassion?

When most parents teach their kids to drive, they focus on the rules of the road; for instance, how to stop without giving every passenger whiplash, or that yellow lights mean you need to slow down, and it’s not the time to test your Fast and Furious 6 skills.

But my dad has never been conventional, and he chose to teach me compassion while driving. When I would get angry that a car was driving 10mph under the speed limit and I couldn’t pass them, my dad told me not to jump to conclusions. He would share the story of a friend of his, a man who’s wife was dying of cancer and as he drove her to the hospital he had to drive slowly as every bump he crossed caused her excruciating pain. Looking at the car in front of me I would feel terrible. Well, for about five minutes until I thought, “that’s probably not the case with that car, they probably are just on their phone, and now I’m going to be late and it’s all their fault.” As you can tell, 15-year-old me was very judgmental, less than compassionate, and incredibly stubborn.

Well 20-year-old me isn’t much better.

It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in my own world, problems, and self. It’s easy for me to choose not to see the importance of compassion. It’s easy for me to judge. That is, until I became the person in the car.

Two days after I returned home from my second stay in the hospital, my mom took me to our hairdresser so I could learn how to style my hair in a way that wouldn’t scare small children. As we were driving back home, we approached a yellow light, and my mom–knowing that riding in the car was difficult for me as it caused nausea, and that the strain on my unfortunately still stiff neck was painful–slowed down even though she and the car behind her could have easily made it. The car behind us, realizing this, proceeded to blare their horn, yell out of their windows, and flip us off.

In that moment, I became the person my dad was talking about all of those times. I felt what a lack of compassion can do to a person when all they need is compassion and understanding. I knew they had no idea I was recovering from major surgery; I also knew they thought my mom, “needed to get off your d*** phone and f***ing pay attention to the f***ing road.” My mom brushed it off, but I was devastated. She had spent the last three weeks bending over backwards to take care of me, she didn’t deserve this, and these people had no idea how astonishingly wrong they were. But what was more troubling, was that I knew, to an extent, I had been that person.

How many times had I been rude and judgmental to someone who was struggling with more than I would ever know? How many times had I really cared? How many times had I given a complete stranger the benefit of the doubt and just shown love and compassion? The answer? Probably not often, and definitely not frequently enough.

Passing judgement is the act of withholding compassion, and showing compassion is the effect of withholding judgement.

God rewards us for showing compassion; Matthew 5:8 ESV, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” When we show others love and compassion and our heart is pure of judgement, we are then shown the beauty of God in our surroundings and in others. However, He also condemns us for passing judgement, Romans 2:1 and 5 ESV, “For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge practice the very same things…because of your hard and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”

I challenge you to chose compassion over judgement. It takes work, and it is a constant battle of choices, but the reward of choosing compassion will be seen daily and eternally.

In her book, Buzz, Katherine Ellison details her life as a mother of a child with ADHD and the year she took to watch her son closely in order to show compassion and love more effectively. She expresses, “the only way to break this chain [of judgment being the first reaction we have toward others] is to keep in mind William James’s idea that what you pay attention to becomes your reality and, whenever possible, to keep my focus fixed on the best part of people’s natures.”

Ellison is essentially reiterating what Paul tells us to do in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We destroy argument and every lofty (judgmental) opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Taking these thoughts captive and focusing on the best part of people’s natures allows us to look at the car in front of us that is driving unnervingly fast or slow and replace judgement with compassion. It allows us to let the disgruntled, rude person with one item go in front of us at the grocery store–even though we’ve been waiting forever–because we can acknowledge they might need some compassion in that moment. Christ calls us to love others (John 15:12), to show them compassion–not to judge them.

Next time you’re in a similar situation of showing judgement rather than compassion, take that thought captive, make a choice, show some love.

Because one day, you’ll need that love and compassion too. Trust me.

Control Freak 101

I’m kind of a control freak.

Alright, more than kind of, I’m completely a control freak. My custom ordered planner has a ten-color coding system, and if even one detail of my day doesn’t go according to plan I’m likely to shut down. It’s unhealthy and I’ve been trying to change for about six months now. I prayed to God to help me break this unhealthy character flaw, and apparently He figured brain surgery would be the fix for that. Here’s why.

I had a condition that has existed since birth. There is nothing anyone could have done at any point in my life to produce a different outcome, to help me avoid surgery. I couldn’t control what led me to surgery, I couldn’t control the surgery (a lack of a MD is not the only obstacle there), and I couldn’t control the recovery. Most surgeries have some sort of post-operation physical therapy. That’s not the case with Chiari Malformations, and everyone’s recovery is different. Since there isn’t a textbook timeline, you recover when you recover, and if you try to force it, you’ve probably just added a few more weeks to your sentence.

In the midst of all of this, it was easy to feel hopeless, useless, and purposeless, especially for someone so use to controlling things. I threw myself many a pity party. I’m such an expert, I could be a professional pity party planner. But the worst part is, with all of the fears and stress in the face of the surgery, I still didn’t want to give up control. I told myself I did, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t true.

The stress surrounding whether to attempt going back to school or stay home for the semester is what broke me. Stress. I’ve lived the last five years in constant stress, but it wasn’t until this experience that I realized where my personal stress is derived.

Google defines stress as, “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Now while I don’t disagree with this definition, I would like to propose a new definition. Madison defines stress as, “the state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from a perceived or real lack of control.”

Some of my most stressful moments in life have been the result of my inability to control a situation or the result. The feeling of making the wrong choice and being unable to control a situation to achieve the right outcome has caused my greatest stress. One day, I was sent this verse by a very close friend, “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 ESV) At first, I wrote it off, I had read this verse several times and didn’t really see how it applied to me, I wasn’t worried about finances, or food, I was worried about a MAJOR LIFE DECISION. So I continued to stress and cry and stress cry.

My dad is a very discerning person. Too discerning sometimes if you ask me. So after I finished crying for the fourth time in a single day, he read this very same verse to me, and helped me apply it to my control problem. He told me Jesus is telling us here that we need to take things one day at a time. Trying to control the future will only leave us disappointed and stress crying in a corner all day. And it was then that I began to give up control.

This was five weeks ago, and giving up control is a daily struggle, but one that has benefitted me more than I can express. I no longer worry or stress about the future, or even about the next week. I have peace and a calm attitude I never knew existed. I no longer see the future as terrifying or uncertain since I know everything will work according to God’s plan, as long as I give Him the control and allow Him the power to orchestrate my life to bring Him glory. I’m not saying everything is going to be easy and beautiful, I know there’s going to be pain and suffering in the future. The difference is, I know there will be beauty in the pain; I know there will be opportunities in the suffering. This no longer scares me, because with God in control–and not me–the future, good and bad, has purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.

How do I do it?

Thank you for asking. Every day I remind myself to take things one day at a time. I write this phrase (One day at a time) on my mirror, I put it as the background of my phone, I put it on a sticky note in my car, places I will see it multiple times a day, and I refer to it when I start to want the control again. When I start to get stressed because of this lack of control I take a deep breath and look at these reminders. Eventually, this becomes less of a chore and more of an attitude. Eventually, this becomes beautiful, no longer annoying. Eventually, this becomes a way of life.

So I’m no longer a control freak, but I’m not going to get rid of my planner, just the ten-color coded system and the inflexibility.

How My Right Arm Saved My Life

Exactly nine and a half weeks ago my life was disrupted in a way I never thought possible by learning I have a genetic condition, one that can be life threatening without surgery but that is resolved with a life threatening surgery. No, the irony is not lost on me. How I came about this knowledge and the reason I am able to be here to type this today, is all thanks to my right arm…plus a few doctors.

On September 1, I was studying in my dorm when all of a sudden I had sharp back and chest pain, I couldn’t breathe, and my right arm went numb and was turning blue. While I was WebMD’ing myself into a heart attack, a friend came by my room, noticed I wasn’t doing well, and offered to drive me to an urgent care center. We went to the doctors and then the emergency room, but after an EKG, X-ray, and ultrasound they had no idea what was wrong. I live close to school, so my dad came and got me, then took me to the emergency room. I arrived at 4:30am on Tuesday, and left at 7:30am. The doctors there still had no idea why my arm was blue, cold to the touch, swelling, and numb, so they referred me to a vascular surgeon that day at 11:30. The vascular surgeon scheduled me an MRI for 1:30pm that day, and after reviewing it and conferring with other doctors, he sent me to a neurosurgeon on Thursday, September 4. By noon on Thursday, I was scheduling my brain surgery.

I have a Chiari 1 Malformation. This means my skull is too small for my brain, so my brain stem extends past my skull by 15mm. Had the malformation been under 7mm, I wouldn’t have had to have surgery. However, because my brain stem went so far past my skull it made it impossible for my spinal cord fluid to flow from my spine to my brain, which caused a build up of it in the middle of my spine. When this occurs, it is called a Syrinx. A Chiari Malformation is rare, but a Syrnix is even more rare. Fun stuff, huh?

I had my surgery on Wednesday, September 10 at 9am. The surgery lasted three hours, and it consisted of removing a graft of bone at the top of my skull, then removing the bottom section of my skull at the base of my neck, shaving down the C1 and C2 vertebrae in my spine, then cutting around the membrane of my brain stem. (P.S. when having major surgery, NEVER Google the surgery beforehand, this is an extremely bad idea. Trust me.) By the end of the surgery I had a lot less bone and hair, and had gained 18 staples and 16 stitches. Both of which, unfortunately, made small children cry.

I was in the hospital for three days, and then home for four days before I started experiencing an incredible amount of pain and debilitating migraines. This pain went on for four more days until on September 20 I was readmitted to the hospital for Chemical Meningitis. Because the spinal fluid was finally able to go to my head, it collected in my skull and pushed my brain to the side. The hospital kept me fully sedated for four days until it miraculously went away. I was released from the hospital again on the 24th.

Since then, I have been home from college recovering. Now I am finally able to drive, I haven’t had pain medications since October 19, and have learned how to strategically hide my lack of hair (thanks, Pinterest). It’s surprisingly great. I’ve learned a lot, plus without the surgery, the doctors told me I would have been either dead or quadriplegic by Christmas, so I am very blessed to be alive and moving right now. *My right arm is working again, thank you for asking.

I’ve learned an incredible amount from this experience and gained an entire new perspective on life, but a lot of my behavior from before the surgery–that I was less than proud of–is starting to return. So I’m starting this blog and leaving CaringBridge to remind myself what I’ve learned and to keep me accountable to maintaing good habits. It is also my hope that what I’ve learned and what I’m doing can help you or someone you know in some way, shape, or form.

I’m also tired of watching Netflix.