Losing my Crowning Glory

“He calls me beautiful one.”

-Song of Solomon 2:13

Cancer means sickness, that much is obvious. What you may not think about upon diagnosis, however, are the losses and rules in your life you will now have hand-delivered to you by cancer, because a tumor taking up residence in your brain isn’t enough to deal with. Chemo and radiation, I’ve noticed, are far less significant to my mental health than still feeling like “me”. During my first day of radiation, my mother had me change into a hospital gown, concerned the neck of my sweater was too high and would interfere with the treatment. She sent a huffy young woman into the dressing room; what she got back was a mess of tears and complaints, sniffled through sobs. Looking at myself in the mirror, I wasn’t me. I was a brain cancer patient, a sickly girl woefully unequipped to climb the mountain she was facing. My mother, for the sake of us both, let me change back before praying with me, reminding me that while I am unequipped, God isn’t. The incident left me with a realization: as important as it has been to me that those around me maintained some sense of normalcy, I craved that feeling too. I wanted to know that, despite my circumstances and what I was going through, I was still me. Having over a golf ball sized chunk of brain mass removed from your skull during a six hour surgery leaves you wondering if you’re all still there, and once you figure out you are, its a feeling you want to hold on to. Each morning, though I’m home alone and the only people I’ll see outside of my family that day are my radiation techs, I get ready the same way I did when I was attending classes on campus. Things have changed: I can’t use certain creams or foundations due to radiation, the dark circles under my eyes have grown (despite my frequent naps from radiation exhaustion), and there’s far less hair to style; but I am still me.

The Bible tells women that “true beauty begins inside,” that our beauty “should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.” This in mind, I gathered myself after my diagnosis and focused inward; if I am fortified and beautiful inside, my outward changes will have less effect on my outlook. As a medical student and avid internet learner, I wasn’t shocked at the suggestion of losing my hair. If anything, I was determined: this was merely another obstacle in my journey for me to overcome, something God was using to turn my focus inward. Shortly after surgery, left home-bound and bored, I began looking up pixie cuts I thought would fit my face, sending my boyfriend and family members each one for their opinion. I made the decision to donate my eleven plus inches to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths, which works with the American Cancer Society to provide free wigs to adult cancer patients. Just because I no longer consider my hair my “crowning glory” and am ready to let go, does not mean another woman has made the same decision, and it was very important to me to help the others I now share an unconventional camaraderie with. Small gestures can change someone’s life during a time like this; I only hope my hair would do the same. And no, Dad, I’m not just doing it to get my own hair back as a wig!

This led to me, sitting in my stylist’s chair two weeks ago, hair cut to my neck, showing her photos of my desired hairstyle. “This is short!” she declared, as if I hadn’t noticed, then turning to my mother for nervous backup. “Lana, this is short! This is, like, an inch!” My mother merely smiled back and nodded, and the cutting began. As someone who has never rocked a haircut above shoulder level in my life, razors and scissors so close to my ear were a more precarious procedure than brain surgery. Or so it seemed, as I was unconscious during the latter. The final result was exactly what I wanted: short, sassy, easy to manage. While I do miss the curls and comfort of longer tresses at times, I don’t miss the time or effort. I certainly won’t miss it as it starts to go. Two weeks into radiation, I am already seeing the slightest thinning of my longer swath of hair, left that way to cover my scar, which, ironically, is where the effects of radiation hair loss will be most compounded. Each time I run my hand through the wet strands in the shower, I come out with a collection of golden hair between my fingers, lying as lackluster and lifeless as strands of thread. Though it isn’t easy to watch yourself begin to bald at twenty (I don’t want to look like my old man that much!), five inches are easier to lose than twenty-something. My hair may no longer be my crowning glory, but that’s fine. I’ve traded in my crown for battle gear. I have been chosen for such a time as this to become a warrior: a member of the army of God and in my fight against cancer. I am sure I will soon lose my hair, my skin may be jaundiced, I may wear my exhaustion on my face, but I will glow with the beauty of being a child of God from the inside out. Don’t wait to work on your inner beauty until the you are under the threat of having your outer beauty stripped away. Use His light to beautify yourself within as well, and you will be considered beautiful, prepared for all life has in store for you as an ambassador of God.

 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” -1 Peter 3:3-4

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Don’t Hide the Hardships

“But who can feel ugly when their heart feels joy.” ~C.S. Lewis

The diagnosis of brain cancer brings with it many things to adorn you with: a closeness to God, a camaraderie with the other patients in the Oncology suite, and the body of Christ in full force. It also gains you the armor and markings of a warrior, though a less impressive looking warrior than any in the history books. Pin-prick IV marks, a nice, recognizable scar (if you’re lucky like me, it means stubborn baby hair regrowth, too), and, a new addition since Monday, a radiation mask.

Radiation for brain cancer is a tricky thing. The goal of radiation is to target and kill the cancerous cells in the tumor with concentrated beams of energy, though hitting any accidental bystander brain cells could have serious consequences. Since my tumor sits within my short term memory, it could make me a spacey, confused individual. It’s okay, Phoebe was always my favorite character on FRIENDS anyways. The radiation mask exists to hold my head in the exact same position every day I receive radiation to ensure they hit the target spot-on. They wet a mesh plastic mask in warm water, and stretch it over your face like elastic. It forms precisely to your skin and slowly dries in place as they run a CT scan to see your brain’s exact position within the mask. I’ve learned (looking at the photos above) that radiation therapy masks for brain cancer make you look a bit monstrous, but at least I only have to take my earrings off for therapy, and don’t have to worry about changing into a hospital gown. The vain, fashion-obsessed side of me breathed a sigh of relief when I found that out.

After the mask was made, my family met with my Nurse Practitioner, Katie, who will manage my case on a more personal level. As the nurse practitioner, she’s stuck discussing the hard stuff with me, the side effects that the doctors don’t bother much with (as they are busy calculating my radiation dosage), but which can make the treatment a lot less stomach-able.  We discussed the tiredness that comes with therapy, the potential for radiation burns, which can be worsened by any sun exposure. Fortunately, we both acknowledged that my alabaster skin had given me a plethora of experience in avoiding sun exposure. Combating burns is hardly a foreign concept to me.

Then came what seems to be the most buzzed about side effect: the hair. Radiation causes hair loss at the site of treatment. Coupled with the hair loss from chemotherapy, my hair will likely have jumped the metaphorical ship by the end of the year. Before she even mentioned this, however, Katie commented on my scar. She discussed how good it looked (for a stitched together strip of scalp), and mentioned what she considers one of the toughest parts of hair loss: you lose your right to choose. To a lesser extent, this is the same effect of my surgery scar. It’s not a choice whether or not I let people know what’s going on; everyone knows. The first two weeks after surgery, I worked tirelessly to style it, or cover it with a beanie. I wasn’t embarrassed, but wanted to preserve the normalcy of my family and myself when out in public, to not feel eyes linger on me for just a moment too long before pretending they were actually staring at something else. Not that people stare out of malice; I have done this before myself, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a natural human reaction to wonder and feel concern for someone with a clear sign of sickness or injury.

Perhaps what I struggled most with adapting to was church. Vain though it was, leaving my scar uncovered seemed to lessen the formality and work I put into looking my Sunday best. Aside from that fact, there’s only so much you can do with hairspray and a comb to hide something without looking like you’re from the 1980’s. I feared, though I knew no one gave it a second notice, having my scar so exposed was somehow disrespectful, or distracting from the message. Over time, though, I became used to it. It was a part of me, something God allowed to happen so that through this, I could glorify Him. Why wouldn’t He want me to wear it proudly, so that anyone who sees it may be reminded of the great things He can do through us, of what He can save us from? Remembering that, I nodded in response to Katie, telling her this has always been a public journey for me, and reminded myself this is only to serve His purpose.

In eight weeks, I could look just as I do now, with the exception of a new, spunky short haircut to make my life easier. I could also be bald, with a scalp as red as roses. Neither result matters. True, one may attract more attention and be harder to deal with, but I will wear it as a badge of honor in my fight against cancer and in my fight to bring others to God. Do not be afraid to show your flaws, they show others God accepts and loves us in spite of them. Do not be afraid to show your pain, it shows you were strong enough to endure what God carried you through. God has made you new, “he calls [you] beautiful.” Do not let the enemy tell you that you are otherwise. Your scars, whether visible or invisible to the naked eye, are proof you are fighting for Him.

“My prayer is that when I die, all of Hell rejoices that I am out of the fight.” ~C.S. Lewis

Children Laughing, People Passing

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. -Hebrews 6:10

The story of the first Christmas teaches us about a number of things: God’s ability to use people the world considers unworthy, His love and forgiveness, and the power of those God uses. Joseph and Mary, both young and poor, depended on strangers’ kindness to help them reach Bethlehem and provide what meager birthplace they could for Christ. I have praised God over and over since the start of my journey for the kindness of those around me, strangers or not. My family knows God can truly use anyone, but I am blessed to be surrounded by the Body of Christ, who pray continually and worship Him beside me, so that I am living by His side through this.

 

The week before my surgery, two family friends were coming over for a planning session with my mother. These sweet women, gifts from God and caretakers to those around them, had taken up the responsibility (read: massive undertaking) of coordinating the help our community wanted to give us: the meal drop-off’s, the care packages, the offers of extra help getting my brother to school. Having just awoke from my long winter’s nap,  of which there were many when I was on my pre-surgery medication, my mother encouraged me to stay on the couch as she went to the door. Moments later, she backtracked on her initial offer, and hurriedly called me to the entryway. I lazily sidled to the front, only to find both myself and her in tears moments later at who stood greeting us. Over fifty people stood on our steps and front lawn, spilling out into the street when there was no more room in our yard to hold them all. Teachers from my mother’s school, boys from my brother’s former high school gymnastics team, scouts and parents from Troop 989; all stood ready to face this with us. I would attempt to explain the joy and power of the Spirit that welled up in me at that moment, the security of knowing I could surely face this with a body of Christ like this surrounding me, but there are no words to describe it. We were called to the center of the circle so the crowd of believers could pray over us, and hands were placed, one after another after another, onto our shoulders. The power of feeling Christ around you, of physically feeling each and every hand on your shoulders as you are prayed over, is unspeakable. It fills you with the kind of fortified and immovable strength that makes you think you could move mountains, if God so willed it. I made it my mission to hug and thank each person there that night; some were faces I had known for years, some I had never met before. Regardless of the familiarity of a face: ages old or completely unknown, the love was the same from each embrace to the next. They are each the body of Christ, ready to lift me up in this, and gifts from God. That night lifted me higher and closer to God than perhaps ever before in my life, left me holding on to Him and ready to face the days ahead. The message of the night was clear. There is a battle ahead, but God has given me an earthly army in the body of Christ to hold me close to Him when I am fearful. They replenish my soul when I am weary. They give me strength when I am faint.

 

Two weeks after surgery, my mom got a text from close family friends. They said they were coming over for dinner, no negotiating, and asked where they should bring dinner from. Let me take a moment, here, to thank each family, friend, and teacher who has brought my family dinner. You don’t understand, until you’re in this situation, how much effort it takes to prepare and cook a meal. My parents work all day and come home to their second job: me. Add to that the fact that my mother was sleeping in my room up to two weeks after surgery for fear I would have another syncopal episode, and you get the picture. She was exhausted. Your meals truly were a blessing. They were one less thing my parents had to worry about, and one more hour we could spend as a family, thanking God we are still together and laughing with one another. Thank you. 

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” ~Luke 6:38

The night Mr. Mike and Ms. Tena offered to bring us dinner the choice of “where from”, of course, fell to me. As the “sick person” of the family, I get to choose where we eat now pretty consistently. As someone who could never decide where to eat before my surgery (which has only made my indecision worse), I am not thrilled by this. This night in particular, however, the decision was an easy one. Steroids are crazy things, and the only thing I’d been constantly craving since surgery was food that was greasy and devoid of nutritional value, which paired well with the “no exercising” orders from my Occupational Therapist. This led to our formal dining room filled with people, gathered around the gleaming mahogany of our beautiful table, a wedding gift of my parents’. My mother’s linen Poinsettia Christmas tablecloth was already laid out across it in preparation for the Christmas Eve festivities to come. And on top of that? Styrofoam plates laden with the cheapest, greasiest, most delicious fast-food chicken you can find in the South. Or anywhere, since it is a well-known fact the South’s offerings of fried chicken are better than that of the North. Mashed potatoes, gravy, and fries made our plates bend under the weight of the food, and the room resonated with laughter. Ms. Tena and Mr. Mike, I can’t thank you enough for that. Your visit filled me with so much joy and strength. Looking around the room for a moment, my parents weren’t remembering hospital visits, or medication times, or researching variations of gene mutations that affect types of chemo needed; they were enjoying the company and conversation, with joyful hearts and eyes teary from laughter. It was a blessing and a strength, and I will never be able to describe the gift from God you were to my family that night, or Christmas Eve, or each night you have been there throughout this journey.

 

I have always loved the holidays, in part, because of the people. Even those I don’t know bring me that holiday warmth I’ve written about. Thousands upon thousands of adults, of different backgrounds and views, work tirelessly each year towards one goal: to keep Santa alive in the hearts of children. Much closer to my heart, however, are the people who pass in and out of our house over the course of these two months. The friends, family, and community members who bring with them blessings of gifts, prayers, and joyful spirits. John 3:16 explains that God gave us the gift of eternal life through His Son. With Him came the gift of the Holy Spirit, then the body of Christ. Each year at Christmas, we seek to be more like Him by giving of ourselves, as the body of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit, to others. So often this is overshadowed by the shine and material promises of the presents lying patient under the tree, but this Christmas has been different, for many reasons. I am constantly reminded of the true gift through the believers around me: in them and of them. You are letting His light shine through you, and I praise God He has blessed me with such a strong community of believers, especially around the holidays, to fill my home and my family’s hearts with love, joy, and blessings. You are becoming more like Him every day, leaving us awash in His light as we stand, facing the path God has created for me, with your hands on our shoulders.

Christmas may be past; but just as God’s gift to us lasts, so do the effects of your kindness and prayers. You offer a testimony with each act of faith and assistance to us.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” ~1 John 5:11

Life, In a Holding Pattern

Be still and know that I am God. -Psalm 46:10

Those of you who have had the pleasure of being my friends and family know that I am not one to be still. I am always on the move. Joining clubs, going above and beyond on school projects (I made it an effort to have each high school teacher save at least one of my projects as a future example), and switching between a number of hobbies in my free time, which means I leave my craft projects scattered unfinished around the house. So, when we found out our appointment with our neuro-oncologist is scheduled for January 4th, I was, to say the least, let down. 

 

This leads me to the big announcement, the most exciting thing for me since the removal of my staples at my follow-up appointment with Dr.Taub (aka the better hair, better surgeon version of Derek Shepherd). The removal didn’t hurt at all, by the way, but left me with a lovely bare strip of scalp and a three-direction part; maybe I’ll start a new trend. So, here it is, folks:

I have Stage II brain cancer

It is a surreal experience, at times, to wake up and remind yourself of this, to feel the barely-there baby hair growing in a thin line across the raised, healing scar in your scalp as you get ready, to feel weak each time you head downstairs for the morning, which you can only do once or twice on orders from your Occupational Therapist. But it is, and don’t fight me on this, a blessing. Yes, I do mean aside from the whole “God is using me through this” thing. Waiting, my family has learned, is a gift from God. Remember that next time you’re sitting in the E.R. for four hours because your kid sliced his head open climbing a tree and needs stitches. Syncopal episodes and brain tumors get you an E.R. room immediately. If it were Stage III or IV cancer, I would likely have begun chemo before I left the hospital after surgery. Instead I am given time to heal, be still in God, and enjoy time with my family. Waiting is a blessing; and it couldn’t come at a better time of year. Christmas.

 

I have always been in love with Christmas. I blame my mother and father, who lavished our home with not one, but two Christmas trees. The mantle glows with garland behind the stockings, the staircase banister is wreathed with greenery that shines like hundreds of shrunken stars, and each Christmas morning a corner of the living room is unreachable, barricaded by a barrage of impeccably wrapped packages. I am, among other things at the season: a caroler, a present-wrapper, and a textbook over-spender. Each year, the moment we return from Thanksgiving dinner at my Nana’s (and the mandatory follow-up nap), my mother wrenches the attic door open and hauls out the first tree as my dad puts on the holiday classics. Each year, as she wrenches the door open, my heart opens with thankfulness and an indescribable warmth Christmas brings. With that warmth is a melancholy feeling that buries itself within the brightness of the lights, a sweet sadness the meets my eyes each time I gaze into the lights. Because as childhood ornaments are hung, as the world ceases its chattering and comes together over cookies for Santa, my heart sings praises of peace to God; and each year, I know it will all disappear too soon. The world will live in the lull of the holidays for too short a time before returning to its bickering, bustling self, and life will resume. I will do the same. In the bustle of the New Year, though, I will occasionally (when I’ve just received a poor test grade and am tempted to pout) put on my Michael Buble Christmas album and remember what it’s like when the world stops to take a breath, moves closer to God, and remind myself of how thankful we should all be for the blessings He has given us in times like these.

I am forever thankful God has commanded me to “be still” during this season, when I am surrounded by lights and family, spending my days wrapping presents and baking sweets. There are times I am so wrapped up in wrapping presents I forget I am “sick” at all. This ends, of course, when my mother swoops in to carry the present to the tree for me, or wrap any present over ten pounds (again on orders from the Occupational Therapist). She isn’t a painful reminder from God, however, but a blessing who smiles sweetly down at me and asks which paper I want her to use. 

Remember not to let the light and warmth of the holidays leave you, even when the presents are opened and you’ve fallen behind on your resolution. For God’s gift to us is good year-round, not just when twinkle lights shine in shop windows. During this season of all seasons, give Glory to God in the highestand on earth peace and good will towards men. ~Luke 2:14

What to Expect (In the Completely Unexpected)

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” ~Psalm 32:5

Yesterday morning, I laid awake in my parent’s bed at 4:00 a.m., (medication does some strange things to your ability to sleep, folks) watching the first glimpses of morning reach up to steal away the darkness. I put down my phone, on which I had been doing my due-diligence as a devout Christmas elf on Amazon for an hour, and counted my blessings. Such a simple thing to do; so numerous are our blessings, we don’t realize all the flowers we’ve picked until our basket begins to break! It’s something I’ve tried to practice each morning before I get out of bed: to re-center myself on what He is putting in front of me, not what He is taking out of me. It makes the light of morning sweeter, and the carpet under my weak feet a little softer in the early hours of the morning. Of these blessings, which I counted through as individually as I could, I thanked God for His prayer warrior women.

God builds up our temporary bodies through the Church, to work for Him amongst each other. That is a blessing. The women he prepared to help me, through my mother’s connections in the community and her work, are blessings I could sing praises for. A group of three of her co-workers, they prayed over me like the fervent, faith-strong believers they are. They visited me in the hospital with muffins (Thank you Mrs. B! And round two was just as good), lifting my family up to Him so gracefully and powerfully they could very well be angels of His own. The blessings have increased since then, like ripples in a pond. Though I still lean fully into Him on this path He has made for me, each woman reaching out is a blessing to support my arm,  if only for a brief amount of time. Some travel parallel paths: they are faint lights in the distance God has shown me as a promise of the joy in my future. Some are mere steps ahead of me in this path He has laid out, extending a hand so I can make it over a spot I find too difficult to tread on my own. Each one an equal blessing He has handed me, that I may do the same for those in Him one day.

“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:15

Though I have barely begun to discover and follow this new path God has revealed for me, though it is still often shrouded and confusing, and though my steps often grow weary and unsure, I am ready to turn back and offer a hand, just as my family in Christ have done for me to lead me on the path when I grow weak. So, without further ado, comes my list of what I’ve learned so far in my walk with Him being made new. Some of this advice is brain-specific, mind you, so if it gets too off-track, just give us “cranies” a moment to chat out our neuro problems.

Without further ado, my devout readers, 

What to Expect, in the Middle of the Completely Unexpected:

  1. Normal is gone
    • I found I gave my heart a lot of unrest coming home, wishing for normal. Normal is gone. There is no new normal. I nearly had a breakdown my first night home from the hospital, over, of all things to worry about post brain-surgery, my green Adidas shorts. They were in my bedroom: I could picture their exact placement, haphazardly laying amongst my other sleep shorts, in my middle bottom dresser drawer. But my mother couldn’t find them, and that was that. I couldn’t climb the stairs in my own home, to get to my own room, to open my drawer to put on my sleep-shorts; and that was all that mattered in that moment. My dad, ever the rock, was there to talk some much needed momentary sense into me. “I know,” he assures me, voice calming as can be. “I know it isn’t normal. But normal is gone.” And he was right. Accept this. As soon as you do, you can focus on God and healing. I have found solace in Isaiah so many times since my diagnosis when my soul was in a well, and return to Isaiah 43:19 for this bit of biblical wisdom: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” How am I to allow Him to work through me and show me my new path in life if I am constantly casting glances over my shoulder at a past that was not nearly as rich in Him as it is now? The clearest thing about my path ahead is God’s intention to teach me to rely on Him fully: to not be tempted to turn from Him to the right or to the left, despite the fact that the comfort of my familiar world is being left behind. The sooner you learn to brace yourself fully on Him, He will lead you along the path He has made for you whether you can see it or not, you need just trust in Him and allow Him to work through you. I am not afraid of tomorrow because I know God is already there. 
  2. You will be tired.
    • This part may be “cranie” (aren’t the terms ICU nurses have the best?) specific, so hold on to your hats, people. If you went through brain surgery, you will be tired. Exhausted. You will feel like a soccer mom who just ran a sleepaway camp, threw a Christmas party for the whole grade level, and took a break to hike Mount Everest in between and then some. If you’re like me, this will be a frustrating mental block for you. I am not a napper, which is counter-productive from all the rest you require. Why do I need rest from more rest? But rest is important. You just made it through, praise God for your doctors and nurses, the hardest fight of your entire life. God needs you to be still in Him so He can heal you for the battle ahead. And that’s essential. In Isaiah 46:4, He reminds us that He will sustain us, carry us, and rescue us. In Exodus (don’t you love how He repeats the important stuff?), He tells us we “need only be still.” When being still is our only option, it seems impossible. The easiest thing for us to do as humans is to shift our burden away from His feet, and run off to our own path in whatever sinful safety we’ve found in life. There will be moments you can barely make it to your couch, where each step seems to scale a mountain and fall into the ocean below, where you wonder where all your life has gone. These moments tempt me most to raise my hands in defeat and maybe I have a time or two. But only to call on His strength, for I am nothing but the mustard seed He has chosen. But we are all nothing, chosen by Him to become a path for His light. Do not turn from Him. Keep yourself with Him and He will reveal His path to you. You will be shaken: literally, mentally, physically to your very core. But remember His promise to you in Isaiah: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fires of oppression, you will not be burned up; …because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you.”
  3. You will not be all there, and that’s okay
    • Ding-ding! That’s right, folks! Chalk-up the Double Jeopardy board, that’s another “cranie” specific point! We’re really on a roll here. Particularly challenging for me (Normal is gone, anyone?) is the frustration of being a burden while I am healing. I have told my father multiple times in this journey “I wish I could do this alone.” I forget so easily what God explains to us in 1 Corinthians 12:27, how all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you a part of it. Knowing you need to depend on the body of Christ to support you is a hard fact to face, but you cannot do it without them or Him right now. You will be confused, you will need to be led down the stairs, you may need to have your family search for ten minutes for your phone, which grows legs every time you set it down. I have always been a go-getter: let me push myself as hard as I can, attend all the DECA meetings, hold the cow-heart in anatomy lab even if I have to stay late, fit in some work in between. Now, I need to be watched over to ensure I don’t leave my medicine (which my parents set an alarm for and brought before me like an offering) setting on the counter forgotten in the thirty seconds it took my mind to wander off like an elderly woman in a nightgown. Don’t be discouraged: it will get better. You are still you. And while you get there, remember, Moses was so weak and tired during the parting of the Red Sea, God ordered the Israelites to hold his arms for him. The body of Christ exists for us so His will may be done through our own Earthly bodies. Rely on your family in Him to lift you up right now. He has blessed you with their graces for exactly such a time as this. Allow them to lift you up, let them wrap your fingers around His wrist when you cannot anymore. You will have low moments: moments where you know you aren’t there, and it will be frustrating. But isn’t it incredible, that God created your temporary Earthly body for this, to use you in His perfect way? You are temporary and frail; He is not. Allow Him to be your strength in these hard times, clinging to your high tower like David in Psalms.“My flesh and heart may fail. But God is the strength of my heart and my glory forever.” Psalm 76:26
  4. You will be scared.
    • Again, I am turning back to Isaiah for this one. God asks us not to be fearful. But he knows us. He knows our souls. Like a parent who knows His child, he tells us not to be fearful, then immediately takes our right hand, and repeats Himself in Isaiah 41:13: For I am the Lord, your God, who takes your right hand and says to you: “Do not fear. I will help you.” Like my daddy every time he wraps his hand around my own in a hospital bed over my IV, which is a feeling he is growing used to, God knows. We are not Him. This is life-altering. You are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, steps wobbly and brain pounding: of course you’re scared! Last night, I sat in a hospital bed waiting to find out if I was having a heart attack. My parents sat across the ER room with silent tension, and though every bone in my body felt such exhaustion I wanted to cry, I could not close my eyes in fear. The EKG came back clean. And I could have cried for hours in relief poured out to Him, in the sheer relief of knowing, again, He carried me through a valley. My grip on Him tightened, my hands raised in praise. Well, they actually held those of my Momma. But still in praise.) But in the overwhelming moments of fear, do as He commands you. Cling to Him, and no one else, and find peace in Him. Since my diagnosis, I have felt many things: fear the least of them .Chief amongst them comfort, understanding, grace. I fear the unknown, I fear the pain. I am only human. God did not give us a spirit of timidy or of fear – but He allows us to fear. He allows us to fear so that we turn to Him, so that we know when to cling to Him. I cannot imagine the fear that reaced out to Joshua while he was in the promised land, but when he returned to the Israelites, he had a firm hand on God, and laid the blessings that God showed Him through the fear out at the feet of His people. That is what you must do. Cling tightly to His hand in your fear, and He will lead you through with more blessings than you thought possible. “I prayed to the Lord, and He answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadoow of shame will darken their face” -Psalm 34:4-5
  5. Be thankful.

This last point is not a “what to expect,” but rather some good-ole, Southern-style, unsolicited advice. Sorry, no French-Silk pie with this, it’s good enough on its own. This is a choice, of course. One of those prayer warriors I referred to earlier has a saying that is just perfect: “Advice is just that, someone else’s advice. You take it or you leave it.” In my journey, since the morning in that hospital, I have felt everything I described in my blog, to the best of my rambling-minded, addle-brained ability. His grace, His peace, His love; my thanks. So, so much thanks. That He would take me, a woman so small and with so little to give to Him, and create an entire path for my life through Him. I, who struggled daily with turning away, knew to throw my hands up to Him, because I had no choice but to praise Him that my dad, in his habit of sleeplessness, stayed up late enough that Saturday night to hear me fall into a seizure. I praise Him that my momma held me in my non-lucid state, her presence all that let me know I was alive, while the paramedics came. I praise Him for each and every doctor, nurse, and radiologist who smiled with me through my pain and most vulnerable moments in that brick of a hospital bed. It is worth noting, for my own bragging rights, that I was a favorite patient in the ICU, as I’m a pretty spunky gal. Being the youngest patient on the floor by about fifty years helps, too! I am blessed that each time in the hospital my brain pounded so hard within my skull it felt like I was drowning in the Marianas trench, I came out feeling His blessings pour through me with a painless grace that left me so filled with Him I literally raised my hands to Him in the bed. The ceilings of my hospital rooms have seen the tops of my hands in praise so often they may as well be the ceiling of a church. I praise Him for bringing me through with my family waiting at my bedside, their love so tense and precious it wrapped me like a blanket. Do not forget: the Bible is the most popular love story ever written. God and all the prophets on Earth didn’t need a Romeo or Juliet to pull that off. Just pure grace and love so powerful it literally shook the heavens. I have never felt closer to God in my life since the moment I felt His wings around me in that ER room, sheltering me, promising His love and protection. Nothing reached me in that moment but God. He reached out and held me, showed me that He was making me new. I knew now, and know in this moment “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal later.” My great-grandad’s favorite sermon to give said we are all vessels for His light, that we can only shine once we were cracked enough for Him to shine through. God reached into me and changed Me, where I saw nothing, and I have felt awash in His light since then. I felt His grace pouring through me like a beacon,and work each day to walk this path He made new for me to walk. Perhaps this is the moment for which I’ve been created. All the days ordained for me were written in His book before one of them came to be; this and the days ahead no exception. The strength I do have, bolstered in His word and family, keep me renewing my joy every morning when my mother wakes me up dutifully at 4:00 a.m. for my medication. God has called me to a new path, and who am I to do anything but praise Him in return for picking me from His garden to grow up into a warrior of His? In moments of truest trial and hardship, cling to Him, trust in Him, and know not to turn away from the future purpose He is creating through you. The path He has created for you will not be one of ease, but God’s greatest warriors are those who remained faithful in times of trial, and He has chosen you to become His warrior. He is making you new!

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2 Corinthians 4:17

 

For When Fingers are too Frail to Cling to Him

“Why me?”

I said the words. There you have them world. In all their authentic, God-questioning glory, hands-raised-appraisingly-to-the-sky: “Why me?”

Even in that moment of panicky text to my boyfriend, who I’m sure wanted nothing more than to hold me from 1,200 miles away, I was not questioning “Why.” I wasn’t questioning Him, or His journey, or His plan. It was me. Because I am nothing. I do not go to church as regularly as I should, I did not read my Bible every day. I was, in every definition of my own term, a bad Christian.

But we all are. Moses had a temper problem; Miriam was jealous; David a murderer. My parents have fortified me in their images nearly every day since I found out, though the nagging remained. Yes, they had flaws. But they were Moses, Miriam, and David. Biblical characters who freed souls and spoke directly to Him. I am me. I am nothing. I am a college girl put on Earth for Him, by Him, who does so little for Him. As were they. God chose the Moses’, Miriam’s and Noah’s people not in spite of their imperfections and stumbles before Him, but because of them. He takes delight in how we overcome our stumbles, like my father when I used to tumble towards him as a toddler. Each time I fell, I pressed on without reprieve to reach Him. And now I do the same.

The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down

My brother, ever the silent beam of support, lifted his eyes in the middle of whatever Marvel movie pound-down was happening last night, and immediately drew to my side as he saw me silently cling my boyfriend’s teddy bear, tears streaming down my face. I do not always speak in tears, and in that moment I was speaking to God, but Cade came anyway. “I’m scared too,” he whispered, his head supporting mine from the side and thin fingers twisting into my own trembling ones. “You’ll always be my little brother.” “You’ll always be my big sister.”

We’ve never been a pair for more words than were necessary, but the silent strength of God he emanated in the moment braced my soul. He prayed over me, without my words necessary to tell Him what I needed. Again, he could tell: I was tired, and stressed, and he put his hands around my fingers to help me cling into God again. God chose me because I am nothing, because he will build me up to spread his light and become a warrior in His name. And here, clinging to a boy weighing fifty pounds less than myself, I felt the strength and anchor of God come through me.

My mother came into the room again, laundry in hands, and saw us clutched in a praying embrace. She, too, sat at my side, surrounding me in Him. This is when He took my hands and pulled me back to Him, reminded me of how blessed I am. I cannot see the ways in the wilderness ahead of me He is making yet, but I know He has my path laid out. He will see me through this wilderness In these moments when I falter in my faith, when I cannot perceive the newness He is building up in me, He sends me His body to keep me clinging. Moses needed Aaron, Ruth needed Naomi. God sent us His body to keep us to Him, and I felt every ounce of His blessings as they lifted me back up to Him last night.

To my momma, who held her hand to my back when I cried in pain, who’s delicate fingers I have fallen asleep holding each night since my surgery, who has never left my side, “Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” -Ruth 1:16 You are the Proverbs 31 woman God blessed me with, and my leaning post in every shaky step of my journey.

To Cade, a rock on which God has built a solid faith. I know you will be facing this storm with me, though you do it with a resolute force. But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. -Jeremiah 17:7-8″ Give me his strength when you know I am failing.

To my daddy, who grinned with red-rimmed eyes and wrapped his bear-paw around my IV-hooked hand as I was in recovery and cried blubbery tears when I whispered “Hi, daddy,”: Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” Keep holding my hands and pulling me to God, holding me up against the waves of the world.

And, finally, I am reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote, a lion of God like my own great-grandfather, who I have felt countless times on this journey, his hand on my shoulder.

“The more we let God take over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended tfo be..It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.” 

I have known all along “all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” It is in this complete stripping of my path God has shown me my true spirit: one of power, of love, of self-discipline through Him. I only wished I had found His grace sooner. learned to focus on the Light ahead, for we are truly all awash in it.

Praising God from a Hospital Bed

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you”

God promises, in Isaiah, when we go through rivers of difficulty, we will not drown. This does not mean, however, we won’t find ourselves neck-deep, panicking and reaching out for Him. One day after surgery, I am here. My blood pounds so hard against my ears I feel a thousand feet below the surface of the river, and I am in such pain I can do nothing but feel my mother’s hand against my back as I rock in my bed. I reach out to Him for help in this time, begging Him to bring me relief in this.

And I fall asleep in the throbbing pain into a memory of crowding into a tidy nursing home room with ten other teens, each of us clutching our Hymn books nervously. The elderly woman who invited us in was excited, and quietly bid us to start singing. At the end of the song, Amazing Grace, she shook with tears and took my hands in hers. She whispered to me that she hadn’t spoken with Christ in years, but that her father had been a pastor, and we brought peace to her soul. We may not have changed that woman’s life, but the peace that God sent into that room through each of us that evening left our souls trembling for Him.

I turn again in pain and fall into a different memory, one of freezing toes and nine degree rooms. ICE is some sort of Texan pilgrimage at Christmas, and we stopped in the day before my surgery to stock up on some good Christmas spirit before the unknowns of the day ahead. It was a beautiful wintry wonderland, filled with runny noses, wide eyes, and carols all around. The final room, however, would’ve been worth the drive and hassle in and of itself. Clear ice lined the room, all an intricately illuminated manger scene laid out before viewers. O Holy Night drifted in an ethereal tone through, still and crystal as the crowd, and my boyfriend pulled me to him as we prayed. There I felt it, just as I had in the ER room in Rockwall Presbyterian Hospital the morning I learned of God’s plan for me. Pure peace in God.

“I have made you. I will carry you. I will sustain you. I will rescue you.”

Though the throbbing in my head had not stopped, the pain slicing into my skull begins to lessen and I lay back. Through each of these memories, God gave me the strength in his blessings to ford the river. I woke up bathed in in blonde sunlight, surfacing from the greatest pain of my life, with one clear thought in my mind: “My God, I am blessed.” My dad came forward and took my hand in his, his eyes wet and happy he was looking into mine again. We both stood, prayed, and thanked God again that day. We know His work with me is not over, that there will be greater towers to climb, deeper rivers, hotter fires,. But we do know that the pain we feel now is nothing to the joy that is coming.