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.

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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.