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.


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.