We want to thank each and every one of you who submitted a question to us about us, friendship, relationships, and coping and maintaining when one or the both of you face chronic illness or disability. We had so much fun writing this post, and we hope that as you read it you will gain as much insight as we did writing it!
For the purpose of this particular post, and to make it easy for all of you to tell our answers apart, Zach will be answering questions in BLUE and Claire will be answering questions in RED.
I'm Claire, I'm in my twenties, I love crafting on weekends and working hard when I can on the weekdays. I love goats, the color pink, and anything beautiful from the inside out. I manage a small gift shop during the day, and I'm a complete farm girl in the afternoon. I'm a certified health coach, blogger, and lover of learning. The truth is that I wear many hats. There are some days where I feel like I can take on the world, and there are other days where I submit to laying in bed and managing pain and sickness. This is because I have Chronic Lyme Disease and Endometriosis.
I was diagnosed with Lyme about five years ago, two years after my mom was diagnosed with the same illness. Together, my mom, dad, and I have walked the frigid storm of treatment protocols, herxing, flaring, pain, and sickness. We've pealed each other off of the ground after passing out. We've cooked meals for each other through pain and sorrow. We've held each other's hands through tears, and we've walked around the house, arm in arm, sustaining the ones that can't walk due to pain. We have slowly made our way back to quality of life. And although we are not yet "cured," and life is far from perfect, we survive this disease through God's grace, and Christ's enabling power and guidance.
The truth about Lyme is that life can still be happy and beautiful even with such an awful and life-altering illness. God grants me that joy and hope when I need it in many ways. He granted me that hope through scripture and prayer. He blesses me with that hope through peace, calm, and relief of pain. He blessed me with that hope when He sent me down to parents who care for me so well. And he grants me that hope through the people who choose to stay in my life no matter how sick I get.
Hi! my name is Zach! To start, let's cover some of the basics:
I am 21 years old and I work on an organic farm currently learning many different techniques on how to grow and eat organic. I'm also learning how to maintain my health while navigating my way through the healing process, and in more ways than others, “the refiner's fire." Maybe I am what you could call a wearer of many hats, and acquiring new hats every day! Although some may disagree with that, that's ok, because no disability or illness should stop anybody from doing what they want. I once heard a woman say that “everything is figureoutable." You just have to find out how to do exactly what it is that you want to do, then do it. Simple, right?
Now, let's get the large elephant out of the way. You may be wondering what illness or disability I could have because I helped answer some of the questions in this article. I was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome. Tourette's Syndrome is a Neurological disorder which, in short, causes a lack of communication between the left and right brain. This lack of communication sends misfired signals to the body creating something you may have heard of called “tics'' (these are not to be confused with ticks…but also an underlying or root cause from ticks). This illness, along with many others, is neurological and physical. This could be why life is more difficult than not at times.
As a baby, Tourette's would cause my whole body to shake, and as I grew older I would either drop or develop new tics. As Tourette's caused a lot of energy (to say the least), I often had to find different outlets for this extra energy to be used up. So after many years of basketball in the front yard and then trying many different sports as a teenager, I ended up in the multi-sport game of water polo.
Now while I have had this “companion” my whole life, I did however recently discover this was considered a disability. Shocking as it seems this was news to me. I may have considered it at one time, but I didn't allow it. Even though most if not all around me did see it as a “problem,” or an “annoyance,” “different,” “weird,” or in some cases “flirty,” or “creepy,” I never really thought of it as a disability. So I wasn't the most outgoing kid and I didn't have a lot of friends, but this didn't exactly stop me from doing what I wanted to. Nor did it stop me from acquiring a few friends either.
I have learned how to overcome through complete faith in my Savior, Jesus Christ. I do know that healing is possible through the refiner's fire. And I know that it is through these fires that we are perfected and healed!
What Are Your Symptoms and How Do They Affect Your Life?
Tourette's Syndrome has two parts; it starts neurologically and ends physically. This is possible because everyone's physical actions start in the brain and end as a physical action. Ex. shaking someone's hand, nodding your head, etc.
One of my greatest symptoms are tics. Tics are the things as above, but involuntary and random. For example, I have a tic where I flick my pinky finger a certain way, or another tic I have affects my breathing. As I said before, I've had tics come and go or get worse. Tourette's affects my life in many ways. As for the tics, they are there a lot depending on what is going on in the way of moods. This means my emotional state can affect them and make them worse. Being nervous or anxious greatly causes them to become very escalated. On the other hand, if I am calm and comfortable then my tics are very small and lessened very much.
My symptoms vary and include but are not limited to:
One of the most difficult aspects of Lyme is that a lot of people don't believe that Lyme disease is a real illness which then leads to rejection by friends, family, doctors, etc.
I've spent a lot of my Lyme journey shedding tears over the disbelief of other people. People don't believe it, or they don't understand it, and a Lymie is often treated as the outcast or the "weird one" of the group.
Making and keeping friends has seemed nearly impossible at times, and the crippling physical symptoms along with the neurological ones can seem like the heaviest burden to bear at times.
How Did You Two Meet?
The first time I met Claire was actually during an interview with her dad. As was mentioned above, I work on a farm. I also happen to work on the family farm. So I came to find out that she too helped with the interviews. Our first time meeting was very formal and quite short.
Picture this: I'm standing in our work building for the farm (we call it "the white building) with my dad, waiting for some kid to show up for an interview after many frustrating and failed interviews, and I'm wearing a floor-length dress because I had a prior engagement, and Zach walks in. I had zero expectation that this interview would go well, and after many questions towards Zach and a noticeable difference in Zach compared to other interviews and young people we had interviewed, Zach left and we decided to hire him as our ranch-hand. That conversation went something like this:
Me (to my dad): "Well what do you think?"
Dad: "I like him!"
Me: "Me too! Let's hire him!"
Let me just say, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that our hired help would become such a big part of our family. But as he spent time with us on the farm, he quickly over-exceeded his job expectations and became a close friend to me and my parents. All three of us love his addition to our farm and family, and we care for him very much.
How Did You Two Become Friends?
It's always good to get along with the people you work with, but it's even better when the people you work with become like family to you. My dad always taught me to treat your employees like family and care for them as such. And with Zach it just all kind of fell into place like that.
Every time I'd find Zach in the white building, he'd wish me a good morning and asked how I was doing. This was before he ever knew about my illness, and as a young person in this world, I found it refreshing that a random person who didn't know me inquired as to how I was frequently, when frankly if he didn't want to he didn't have to.
Zach and I started training our cart ponies together that summer, and as we did so our conversations seemed to be about anything from school to dating, farming to equine therapy, to eventually sharing our experiences and with Tourette's and Lyme. Zach also happened to be by my side helping me for nearly the entire transformation of my gift shop and we shared so many thoughts and laughs through our experience that we just couldn't help but being friends outside of work as well.
Claire and I became friends through working on the farm together! About a year and a half ago when I started working for her family, we had 2 ponies. So at the time and she would come out later in the mornings to work and brush down the horses so we would have about an hour or so to talk to each other and just get to know each other. I think we also became friends because she thought I was super weird because every time I saw her I would kind of perk up and say "Hi," and ask her how she was. (She admitted that too.)
After a while, we started becoming better friends. Fast forward a few months we became close friends and I was washing dishes in the kitchen after dinner! I think we really became friends because we weren't afraid to be open and honest with each other.
What Was Your Initial Reaction to the Other Person's Illness?
Common to Tourette's is the fact that if someone with Tourette's is nervous and stressed, their tics are worse. This seemed to be the case with Zach during his job interview. I remember saying to my dad after Zach left, "What was that thing he was doing with his face?" to which my dad replied, "I'm not really sure, it's some form of disability."
Dad later came inside a week later after working with Zach and announced, "Okay, Zach has Tourette's!"
Honestly, finding out that Zach has Tourette's never really made me see him any differently. Yes, I noticed his tics, but it I think because of my history with Lyme, it never occurred to me that that made him "weird" or "different."
Now that we've been friends for over a year, Zach still tics, but I just don't notice them unless I'm consciously looking for them. I just don't see "the kid with Tourette's syndrome." I see Zach and how much of a hard worker he is. I see our friendship. I see his effort and care. At the end of the day, the Tourette's just doesn't matter as much as the person does. Yes we have hard moments. Yes it's not picture perfect because we both have physical and mental struggles. But as we choose to help each other and have compassion on each other through the hard, our illnesses just seem to dissipate.
In all honesty, I don't remember. And to be even more honest, I don't remember caring either way.
Although I did care about her as a person because she more than deserved that, her illness didn't really bother me. Whether it was because I didn't fully know at all what it was, or because I didn't know that I would find out many months later what it truly was. Now, I did ask questions just so I could know and understand better. I don't remember being shocked or thinking:
“I can't be friends with a sick girl," or “Oh my goodness! How bad is it?”
That was probably because I had my own “conditions" (as I called my own at the time), so I just kept being friends with Claire. I didn't want an illness to affect a friendship because that's how I had been treated my whole life; as the “oh you're weird so we can't be friends" kid.
I will also say this:
Being Claire's friend and having such an amazing friend who does have a chronic illness, has shown me what love truly is. It has also shown me that the illness does not define the friend with the illness but it can define who you or I as a friend really are.
How does your illness/disability make your relationship different from other peoples relationships?
The illnesses and disabilities that we have make our friendship different (I think I speak for her when I say this too) from other people's relationships.
Our relationship is different because the way the world views people who are sick, is not as they should. Our relationship is different because it is built on an emotional connection to each other and God. It is different because a lot of relationships in the world fail because one or both look inward for what they want rather than looking outward as to what they can give.
Claire once told me:
"Zach, whenever you do something for anybody, ask yourself this: 'Am I doing this because I truly love this person or for some other selfish reason?” As the scriptures says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” So if we love God first and are following Him, we naturally love each other a lot better than if we didn't.
Due to our various difficulties, our focus (to the best of our ability, might, mind and strength) is to God because we know that He helps us progress and move forward. When we face a fork in the road or a decision to make, is our choice pointed towards God? Or is it based on what we want? If we love God, we naturally choose the better choice for us and God. If we choose to love God, we choose the best decisions to progress. Similarly, love in any relationship is a choice. No one just falls in love. We either choose to love, or we choose to stop loving. I was once also told by Claire, that “Love at first sight, is just lust at first sight.” True love is not what the world portrays it as. Life can be truly hard, but true love does not falter because of a truly hard situation. Especially when we put our trust in God, because God is love and He can walk us through anything that we face!
The illnesses and disabilities we have, if we let them, can be our best teachers for ourselves and others. Trials are often “humbling blocks" (or sometimes just really big rocks) which can allow God to teach us through our illness, disability, or whatever it may be.
I used to believe in "love at first sight" until I was diagnosed with Lyme. I then learned that the men who claimed to love me at first sight were really just sweet-talking their way into what they wanted.
One does not "fall in love." One GROWS in love.
I second everything Zach just said!
I'd just like to add that one more thing that makes us different is that we often simply just don't feel well. And so our time is spent doing low-key things to help others, or grow our friendship. I feel like a lot of young people get bored of their "sick friend." Zach and I don't, because we get it. We don't measure one another's value in how many "cool" and "fun" thing we can go out and do. We measure it by what's in each other hearts.
How Do You Support Each Other?
I'd like to answer this question by sharing a story about Zach.
It's not news to anyone in the chronic illness community that Lyme Disease can sometimes be intense. I have suffered pain so server that it has brought me to the floor in screams and seizures. There was one particular time when Zach just happened to be there (and many similar times after that) when I was in this form of pain. I just have to say that I have never in my life met a person other than my parents who has been willing to sit with me and be there for me multiple times when I'm in that state of intense and unbearable pain. That day, Zach jumped right in and did everything he could from holding my hand and reminding me to breathe, to filling up my hot water bottle and helping my dad make dinner that night so we would all get fed. Zach doesn't get paid to do stuff like that. It's not part of his job. Those things are acts of love that Zach chooses to do on his own time, by his own free will and choice. And that's love.
The truth is that Zach makes space for my pain. We have a wide variety of pain and sorrow, joy and laughter in our friendship. No, our friendship isn't perfect. Yes we sometimes disagree and argue. In fact, there was a time that we did that more often than not. The different is that Zach stays, works things out, and is constantly trying to better himself so that we can improve and strengthen each other.
We support each other best when we are individually striving to be our best. We say we're sorry. We forgive. We love. We encourage. And sometimes we give each other a dose of tough love when the other needs to hear it. We pray for each other. We have each others backs. In all reality, we seldom ask each other: "What can I do for you?" We simply strive to see a need and fill it.
Claire is a huge support for me in my life whether she realizes it or not. She is such a strong woman and makes room to mourn with me when I mourn and to be happy with me when I am happy. She makes room for my emotions. She celebrates the smallest of successes and she knows how to make me laugh! I know that is small, but when one is sad, the smallest smile is ALWAYS the brightest.
As I realized very recently, she is also the kindest woman that I know. You see, the world thinks that being “kind” is just sugar coating and making everything nice and sweet. Which just isn't true, and sometimes we need a real friend to show us the reality of the “real” in life. She does that when I need it. She also pushes me to do the things which even I know will help me to progress and is a huge support even when she doesn't feel well.
The biggest way that Claire supports me is through kindness, love, grace and compassion.
What challenges arise and how do your resolve them? How do you get through the hard times?
This is a very good question, because everyone will have challenges!
Some of the biggest challenges for me and Claire I think are that we both have neurological/physical issues because neurological or nerves manifest physically. There are some days when our nerves are on fire!! And unfortunately most of the days are on the same day! The challenges faced are many different ones such as anger or “grumpy explosions,” as we have come to call them, and the biggest way we have better learned to resolve them is through kindness. Kindness is growing in love, compassion, and grace. It is understanding their situation or their feelings and putting that above your own.
Sometimes, we resolve hard things very slow, and sometimes we resolve them separately. For the most part we are there for each other to help each other through the hard times. A huge way that I get through hard times is gratitude. Gratitude towards God and even those around you is the best way to get through a hard time. Sometimes it's just holding the persons hand and giving a shoulder to cry on. More often than not through all the “grumpy explosions” and outbursts, prayer is how we get through it. Prayer, faith, increased love for each other and looking for the good in life. Claire and I sometimes throughout the day will ask the other what are three happy things or what has been the best part of our day so far. This is a good exercise because sometimes we just need to stop, stand still, and focus on God and the good that is around us!
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who faces chronic illness/disability about making/keeping friends?
The best piece of advice I can give is this: God is key!
If we follow God, learn of Him, and build our personal relationship with Him, our relationship with anyone who does the same will grow immensely as well. I have learned that love really does triumph all and if we allow LOVE to take over rather than what we think should take over (anger, bitterness, hard feelings, fear or whatever it may be), then we can help our relationships in life to grow much more! ("God gives us weakness that they may become strengths.")
With that, I will also add this: Forgiveness is also an essential part of any relationship because we all make mistakes. All of us. And no matter how close of friends we are, we will make mistakes, misspeak, or say something we don't mean. And it can be hard to let go and to forgive, but the more we do that and allow room to see the other person for their good qualities, the stronger the relationship will grow and the small things won't matter as much because it will become easier to forgive and see the good in each other.
I second all of what Zach just said!
I'd also like to add this:
Don't chase your friends.
I spent so much time the first three years of Lyme playing the game of "chase" with my friends, siblings, and other relationships. I felt like because I have Lyme I had to prove to those people that I was worth spending time with. I had to prove to them that I had something to offer.
The truth of the matter is that if you have to prove to someone that you're worth being in their life, than they are not worth being in your life. You are worthy of love and care even with an illness.
I never had to chase Zach. We became friends because we both showed care towards one another, and that care grows everyday. That's friendship. That's love.
If you're having a hard time making or keeping friends, wait patiently on the Lord. I am sure that He is preparing people for you that will be your people and will love you no matter your illness or disability.
Before Lyme Disease, I thought I knew what love was.
I thought that partying with my best friends on the weekends was love.
I considered pooling your money on a Friday night for pizza, Mt. Dew, and a bag of Hershey's kisses to be love.
I assumed that a friend taking me to lunch was love.
I accepted endless teasing and poking fun at each other as love.
I regarded a goodnight kiss to be love.
I believed that the absence of criticism and the acceptance of my mistakes was love.
I figured love was when someone knew you from the inside out, or at least you think they do.
Then I got sick... Long term sick. The kind of sick that tortures you simply by removing your quality of life and peeling away the experiences that you used to think are what made life worth living. And surprisingly, I found that as your quality of life walks away from you, so do your friends, family, and neighbors as well.
I've heard many people say that you don't know what love is until you've been married for an extended amount of time. I actually believe that you don't know what love is until you suffer, or someone you love suffers and you choose to stay.
It's not often thought about enough. What would you do if someone in your life fell ill? Or became paralyzed? Or suffered a trauma? I mean, who wants to think about the worst that could happen? (Nor do I recommend falling into my friendly addiction of always "assuming that worst.") The answer to that question from the average person is commonly "I just don't know." And I suppose you can't truly KNOW until it happens... or can you?
I was diagnosed with a debilitating illness five years ago after I had watched my mother suffer from the same illness two years prior. Naturally, my knee jerk expectation from the members of my church and community was that the people in my church congregation (that I had heard talk of service and selflessness) would be darkening my door to offer listening ears, hands to hold, kind remarks, and spiritual refreshment. I had spent years hearing about how that's what we do for those who are suffering, so naturally, I thought all that talk was real. And it wasn't.
Now, don't get me wrong; this isn't to say that there are not wonderful Christians or people who do these things. This also isn't to say that I doubt the goodness of God, His love, or the truths that are taught in my church that I know in my heart are true. My effort to point this out is, simply put, to encourage all (whether you belong to my church or not) to try a little harder to be a little better.
My dilemma and the dilemma of MANY of the chronically ill is this...
Good, well-intentioned neighbors, church members, friends, and family are prepared for difficult trials that are short-lived. At the beginning of every difficult road people bring meals, and drop off brownies at the front door; but as time passes for the chronically ill, the meals turn into cravings for someone to talk to and offer comfort, and the brownie principle is quickly converted to sentences like:
And sometimes the obvious rejections of your illness comes in the form of a blank stare and an obvious discomfort as you sit across from someone trying to explain your illness that they are completely dissonant about.
But the problem with all of these responses from compassionless and unfeeling people is that it breaks down the chronically ill. Negligent and thoughtless words can shatter a soul. Lazy comments can cause a loss of hope. And shifting discomfort because sick people are "uncomfortable" makes us feel like a disease, not a person. And the worst of this reality is that eventually, all these hard knocks from people fade into lack of human interaction altogether; because nobody knows what to do for the seemingly never-ending "needy person."
We are not just bodies that lay in our beds. We are not lazy. We are not just looking for attention. We're not "the needy" that can be meagerly paid attention to in order to check off the "good Christian" checkbox every week. We are PEOPLE. And every living person that I've ever known has a basic human need for LOVE.
Christ never taught survival of the fittest. (The sick are meant to die where the healthy thrive and dominate.) Christ taught that "if ye have done it unto the LEAST of these, ye have done it unto me." -Matthew 25:40
I can guarantee you that if you spent your time with "the least of these," you would learn things that would change your life.
We live in a world that is virally shedding the idea that if someone is sick, the BEST call to action is to stay away from them as far as you can.
Not only is this completely against Christ's teachings, but it naturally shatters the human heart and allows cold blood to run through the veins of many people who are DESPERATE for someone to instill love, hope, or peace in them.
Lyme disease taught me something different than this world philosophy about people and love. And despite the cries for distance and shallow forms of "love," I would highly encourage you to apply the healing balm of FAITH combined with ACTION towards "the needy people" that you know.
I now know that LOVE is COMPASSION.
I know that LOVE is a listening ear, anxiously engaged to help in any way they can.
I know now that LOVE is patience, long-suffering, and choosing to STAY in someone's life even if they suffer long-term.
I know that LOVE has little do with parties and social cliques, and more to do with simple moments and acts of service.
I know that LOVE is peeling the one you love off the floor after they've passed out.
And LOVE is washing their hair because they can't wash it themselves.
LOVE is teaching one another things that help each other to be better.
LOVE is TIME. MAKING TIME to BE WITH and EMOTIONALLY STRENGTHEN each other.
LOVE is progressing spiritually and growing TOGETHER.
Love is much more than the messages that are screaming at us on social media and the news. The kind of love that we all CRAVE, is the kind of love that very few understand until deep tormenting suffering takes place. In all honesty, gifting someone with an act of TRUE love is HARD. It takes TIME out of your busy life and schedule, and it usually takes thought and preparation beforehand. It's not easy to truly offer the gift of love to someone who is different or suffering. But at the end of the day, true love wins and is the real answer to deep, lasting healing.
I recently received a comment on one of my social media posts in response to sharing some of my life on the farm.
"Farm life sounds magical!"
I chuckled to myself at that comment because my mind was automatically drawn to the not-so-magical aspects of farming. I'd hardly refer to mucking stalls, chasing goats that got out, waking up early to feed, and working with stubborn horses every day "magical." But it also left me in a reflective state of all of the joy that has come to me from living on a farm.
I have experienced greetings from the sunrise that feel crisp clean. I've absorbed golden summer evenings when the whole farm seems to glow. I've awakened to winter mornings where the whole world is blanketed in white and icy glitter fills the air and space.
I've spent rainy afternoons on my knees in manure aiding in a goat giving birth to a precious new-born, praying that they both might live despite the difficulty. I've cried along the riverbank in response to feeling God's deep love for me after a long week. I've witnessed miracles as I've watched the garden grow, and I've felt a connection with living creatures as I've trained and interacted with animals of all kinds.
I suppose with all those things in mind, farm life can at times be quite magical. It never ceases to amaze me the miracles that I witness every day on the farm.
One such miracle occurred a few months ago when I was feeling discouraged and frankly exhausted with the daily battle of fighting illness and attempting to live as normally as possible.
I was standing inside one of our large greenhouses one evening, taking note of all the little plants that were beginning to grow when I noticed a small butterfly fluttering its wings rapidly along the edge of the plastic covering the greenhouse. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with greenhouses; a greenhouse is usually a large half-cylindrical shape with one door on either end of the structure. Greenhouses are used to keep heat in so one can lengthen their growing season and begin planting even when it's still cold.) I noticed this beautiful butterfly fluttering its wings and mentioned it to my friend that works for us. He replied by telling me it had been there all day and probably wasn't going to get out.
Now, as someone who's heartstrings are easily pulled, for some reason my care for that butterfly increased and I took to the notion that I was going to get it out so it could live. I'd caught lots of butterflies in my backyard when I was a little girl so how hard could it be? My first thought was to cup my hands over it, catch it, and let it go as soon as I reached the door. Butterflies are less that submissive though, and although my attempt was sincere, it failed to succeed.
So I stood there, and I eyed it while silently coaxing it to calm down. After a while, it landed gently on one of the wood beams laid across the middle of the greenhouse. These beams are a little higher than waist high for me, and it wasn't too difficult to reach at the time. I somehow received the thought to just hold out my finger to it, and to my surprise as I did so the little butterfly proceeded to climb onto my finger. I didn't even know that butterflies would do that with a person! While my heart and mind were screaming with excitement I calmly ventured away from the edge of our little plant house and stepped slowly towards the door. All the while, the butterfly sat content on my finger. The moment I reached the door I stretched forth my hand and the little butterfly flew away with a sense of freedom blowing through its wings and gratitude soaring behind it.
I learned a lot that day about living creatures and how I truly believe that we can communicate with them in one form or another. It's almost like that butterfly could feel my intention that day and therefore trusted me to carry it to safety.
I also acquired knowledge that day about how God often works with us.
How often do we feel stuck, afraid, and panicked about life circumstances or experiences that are less than pleasant? And how often does God put forth His hand and pull us out of a scary and unknown place?
I often wonder why I felt the need to help something that was probably really insignificant in the whole scheme of things. It's just a little butterfly? Why would it matter to me? Similarly, all of us can often feel like we are small and insignificant in the sight of God. I would like to assure you that you are never insignificant in the sight of our Father. I cared about that butterfly. And similarly, He cares about you. He loves each and every one of us individually. Even if we often feel like an insignificant bug, to Him we are not. Each one of us has divine potential that is worth giving time and love too. It would do us well to remember that.
I often see myself in the place of that little butterfly. When I'm in the middle of pain from chronic illness or emotional turmoil, I panic with the realization that I "can't get out." That is, I can't get out by myself. I've often found that in those moments if I take time to be still, listen for the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and trust God's outstretched hand, He will very likely carry me to safety.
You see, God wants us to feel free, happy, and at peace. But life situations and the state of the world often discourage us from the good and the beautiful things that life is all about. So today, I'd encourage you to be still. Within all of the mess, and the chaos; and in the middle of all the pain and heartache that life has to offer, choosing to be still and take His outstretched hand is the tangible way to breathe in and absorb the good.
The reality of life is that no matter how bad it is, no matter what you've done, no matter who you are or where you've been, no matter how broken you feel, "His hand is outstretched still." (Isaiah 9:21)
This means that we can take His hand on a daily basis by aligning our lives with Him. This is done through mighty prayer, feasting upon the word of God, repenting every day, and striving to be more like him in word and deed little by little until we have come to a perfect knowledge of His goodness, mercy, and Being.
As we walk this journey of repentance, mercy, forgiveness, heartache, and healing, we can know with assurity that HIS HAND IS ALWAYS STRETCHED OUT to help us through. As we rely on that hand, we can quite literally be carried throughout hardships and turmoils just as I carried that little butterfly to safety. Know and trust God's intentions. He intends to love us and bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. There is no greater or hope-filled intention than that.
Take his outstretched hand. Know you are loved. And at the end of every discouraging moment, day, week, month, or year, remember that HIS HAND IS STRETCHED OUT STILL.
There are times when winter is reminiscent of being swallowed by a deep black hole. And if we're not careful, we may forget the light that's right behind the cloud cover.
I hold deep antipathy for darkness, and I often look up at the sky in the wintertime wondering if the bleak gray of winter will come to an end. It's common to hear talk of "winter depression" or "seasonal depression," but I almost never hear talk of what it's really like, or what it even really is. I wish I could say that wintertime was merely a battle with sadness, but I've found it's often much deeper than that, and the PTSD that comes from long months of illness is as real as the PTSD that comes from fighting in a war. In all reality, this is a war for those of us who push through winter with chronic illness, one heavy step through deep snow at a time.
Last year at this time my family was walking right into "The Lyme Flare of 2019." I took up my bed in February of 2019 with pain so deep and penetrating that I couldn't lay on one side of my body for too long without having to sorely role over to another side to release any pressure that was weighing on my pained muscles. I had been in this place many times before, but this time was a complete recession from how I had slowly been improving throughout 2018. Like falling down the stairs or off of a tall cliff, I looked up at this beast referred to as a "Lyme flare" that I was somehow facing once again and felt completely destitute and defeated.
At the time I had been struggling with piercing feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and the fear that I will never be enough. I had been striving so relentlessly hard to work through life on my own, that my mental health had completely receded. I prayed for relief from the monsters inside me and instead of relief I was left to cope with physical pain and my ability to do anything removed from my grasp. And it was in this time-frame that I resolved to surrender everything to God and hope that by some miracle I could be pulled out of this darkness that swallowed me while I lay helplessly in a bed or on a couch. The "winter depression," as one might call it, was so heavy that I often felt completely paralyzed. I remember at this time that every time I could manage to glance out of a window my eyes would be met with gray skies and cold frigid air.
What I didn't know at this time was that this wintry flare that left me feeling completely lost and pained, ended up being one of the greatest blessings of my life, and resulted in one of the greatest lessons of my life.
Up to this point in time, I was living subconsciously as if I have to do everything on my own for quite some time. I'd never done anything half baked, and I'd always found myself meeting my problems and pitfalls with ambition and hard work. Unfortunately, there are things in life that one cannot possibly do on their own, such as facing monstrosities like Lyme disease, betrayal, or abuse, and I often found myself passing blame to myself for the misfortunes that happen simply as a result of mortality. I blamed myself for my negative feelings, and I numbed myself to my heartaches and hurts as a way to somehow prove that I was strong and that I could heal and survive on my own.
If there was anything that "The Lyme Flare of 2019" taught me, it was that I simply could not do it on my own. I had been driven to a place where burning over my pains with work and busyness was no longer efficient because my body would not allow me to. And as one can imagine, I faced my pains with the quiet allowance of feeling. It was excruciating. But with that, I learned about grace.
It was as if God had answered my cries for relief by giving me permission to stay in bed and sleep for a month or two. I felt His love and support even when all I could do was rest. And surprisingly, life went on. He took care of what I couldn't and I felt great peace and comfort that this was a time of RECOVERY, STILLNESS, and HEALING.
You see, we are not expected to pass through toil and trial on our own. And in a world where I have heard the phrase "God doesn't give you more than you can handle" run freely from the mouths of those who have yet to taste bitter cups in this life, I commonly assumed that there was something wrong with me because THIS was more than I could handle.
Lyme is more than I can handle.
Betrayal trauma was more than I could handle.
Watching parts of my family fall apart because of this disease was more than I could handle.
Living day, after day, after day for years watching my mother in pain and suffering that is seemingly endless is more than I can handle.
And the heartache that comes from isolation and loneliness is MORE THAN I CAN HANDLE.
The truth is that there are many times in life that God will give us more than we can handle and that is simply because we were not meant to handle it by ourselves. We were given grace, tender mercies, each other, and a Savior who loves us tremendously. So as we pour out our aching souls to Him, He gives us grace for grace, and mercy for mercy. Who knew that lying in a bed in debilitating circumstances could teach me that I am enough, that I don't have to "handle" everything by myself, and that just because I can't handle something doesn't mean that He can't.
So now I face this winter with similar anxieties, pain, and emotions boiling to the surface. I still glance out the frosted over windows to see bleak skies and frigid air. I still often find myself in deep weariness of soul because there are some battles in life that do not merely end.
The increase of symptoms and the seasonal depression can still weight heavily on my body and heart, but this year I fight with a changed perspective. This year I fight with quietly loud faith knowing that I am not fighting alone and that I don't have to face the scary aspects of life on my own.
The winter will always pass through where I am. The skies will always gather clouds and the storms with often rage. The cold will often chill us to the bone, and sometimes coats and scarves won't always be enough to warm our troubled hearts. But one thing I can guarantee is that bright blue skies will always appear again. Light conquers cold and dark. And there is often something beautiful awaiting us in the middle of these merely bleak or utterly terrifying winters of our lives.
The trick is to remember in the middle of them that as we strive, we are enough, we're not alone, and sometimes you can even find some beauty within the storm. For I always thought that snowflakes could turn out to be quite beautiful anyway.
God's grace can and does sustain us, and I pray for that as we persist through another winter.
I grew up on Hallmark movies. We all the type... Those movies that always begin with a single, independent, seemingly flawless woman with some high-end job in the city, or some cozy gift shop or bakery in a small town. And after a short intro of this stunningly beautiful girl, we're then introduced to Mr. charming, handsome, CEO, or buff small-town handyman who only wears plaid and manages three small businesses of his own. Along the way Mr. Charming meets Ms. Independent and in less than a day this unlikely couple can manage to save a town... or their small business... or Christmas; all while simultaneously falling in love, finding some reason why they'll never work out, separating for a few minutes, and then later (in the same day I might add) manage to resolve everything. Furthermore, we all know that every Hallmark movie ends with the world's most romantic kiss. And at the end of every Hallmark movie, we all assume the success of that perfect couple.
I suppose that somewhere in my adolescent heart I believed that such perfection could exist. As I grew older I subconsciously held my expectations high and my hopes even higher that someday my Hallmark life story would become a reality. Let's just say I put the word "hopeless" in the term "hopeless romantic." I aimed high and hard for that reality. My perfect reality. My perfect lie.
I'm sure you can imagine my shock when life didn't turn out the way I thought it would. Now, don't get me wrong; for I do not solely blame Hallmark movies for cultivating my perfect lie. I have found society, social media, social norms, and the status quo nurturing this perfect lie more often than not.
I've watched young people my age post fundamentally every Olympic moment they experience in their short lives to their various social media accounts; leaving others relentlessly comparing their personal worsts to everyone else's public bests.
I've observed pictures of endless glamorous and fun first dates. I've scrolled through perfectly edited engagement pictures in perfectly white fields or stunningly flawless mountain ranges. I've clicked on flashy engagement rings and completely enchanting wedding videos. I've liked and commented on many college degrees, job promotions, immaculate maternity photo-shoots, and perfectly clean pressed children. I've seen it all and aimed for it all, only to find that it is not all real.
The problem with this subconscious facade is that it manifested in my very conscious life. I spent my days making never-ending lists of qualities in a "perfect man", only to find that there isn't a man that will check everything off on my list, and the most important things in a man weren't even on that list! I went to college because that's what you're supposed to do when you're young and fresh out of high school, only to find that college wasn't for me and that didn't in any way make me a failure. I've been obsessed with lists, schedules, planning, and my idea of perfect only to find that sometimes the lists and the schedules are significantly less important than God's timing, and that life is what happens AFTER you make plans! My reality was that I flirted with perfection because I thought it looked pretty, and the ugly in life scared me.
I learned very quickly that the easiest way to overcome your fear of the ugly is to face the ugly head on and trust that God will lead you through the painfully imperfect moments in life.
I found myself sitting in a dentist chair the other day conversing with the dental assistant who was cleaning my teeth. She asked me a few things about my life in which I shared with her about my blog, the gift shop I'm opening, etc. I mentioned a few small things about my life that I currently feel good about to which she replied:
"Wow! It's like your life came straight out of a Hallmark movie! You inspire me!"
To be honest, I'm still minorly laughing at that statement because oftentimes there are a lot of things that go unseen in other people's lives. It's natural to miss the sweat and tears that go into starting a business. Many people do not comprehend the long nights and overly stressful days that accompany earning a college degree. There's a lot of hard work and effort that is often overlooked among young people who can only see the outward "perfect relationship." Most people don't see that I have a debilitating chronic illness that adds extra weight and struggle to my daily life. Most people don't witness that agony of betrayal or abuse. The agonizing pain of many things that often feel like more than we can handle is often not talked about or recognized. This then leaves a lot of us wondering what we're doing wrong and why the long hard journey is something that must be borne alone. And then for those who are at high peaks in their lives it leaves them blind to the suffering around them and unknowing how to help, or unaware that it's even necessary for them to help at all!
My life is far from perfect and that's okay! I've lived my fleeting moments of perfection. I've been the young girl at college with the world at her fingertips. I've fallen in love at Christmas and have pranced around with a flashy diamond ring. I've had perfect mistletoe kisses and perfect family photos. I've picked out the perfect wedding dress and posted perfect engagement photos to my social media.
But there are shadows in every picture and wounds that go unseen. I also went home from college due to chronic Lyme disease and have spent years suffering and praying for relief and healing. I've passed through "a boyfriend for Christmas" only to be met with a breakup in June. That perfect mistletoe kiss only lasted for a second, and that flashy engagement ring meant nothing when glaring straight into the face of dishonesty and betrayal. Those perfect engagement pictures never lead to a wedding, and those family photos were originally meant to be wedding photos and are missing a few members of my family.
And all of these imperfect things were things that were and are out of my control simply because they are a result of mortality.
So, life is far from perfect... where's the hope in knowing this?
The hope is in knowing that the value of your life is not calculated by the sum of your perfect moments or the moments that everyone sees on social media.
Life is not about the flawless moments that take your breathe away. Sometimes it's about the moments where your heart feels like it can no longer beat because your grief is too great to bear. Occasionally it's about sudden rainbows in the sky or dancing in the rain. More often then not it's about the moments in tears on the bathroom floor because we've all be there at one point or another. Sometimes it's about laughing so hard your stomach hurts. Often it's about embracing through the hard and wiping tears through the sorrow. It's about long nights and headaches. Intermittently it's about the first good night's sleep you've had in forever. Frequently it's about worrying and praying for a good outcome. Sometimes it's about problem-solving, and hand-holding, and enduring, and pouring your heart out to God in prayer. You see... life is the sum of all human experience because without the pain, sorrow, and imperfection, we would have virtually no recollection or appreciation for the joy, love, and beauty that comes in life.
The most beautiful moments in life, are the moments that are borne out of great suffering. They come in the form of sudden beautiful vistas, sudden miracles, and moments of peace, hope, and unexpected smiles. Without opening up about the ugly imperfect moments of life, there are no hands to hold when you are called to pass through your life's ugly. So instead of hiding in secret, may we all be safe spaces for people to share their imperfection. Because becoming perfected for the eternities is all about striving to overcome the imperfect in mortality, and thanking God for the beautiful journey that life is.
"Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. Most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old-time rail journey–delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride." (President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov. 1984:86 )
We have Christ to heal us from the imperfect of mortality. And we have each other to aid in the healing process if we so choose to lift each other in love and support. May we all share our imperfect. Because at the end of the day... all of the outward perfection is just a lie anyway.
I once used to be a young girl that found every detail in life to be absolutely magical. I used to record every moment that seemed completely enchanting on little strips of paper, and I'd fold them up and put them in a small jar that I kept on my dresser. And as I now look back on those moments that I never would have recalled otherwise, I'm reminded that every one of those moments was perfectly ordinary, but my mind recorded them as memories that were special.
I've jumped in huge piles of golden leaves whose crunch sounded like a symphony to my adolescent ears. I've smelled fresh baked cookies only to run into the kitchen carefree and joy-filled. I've balanced on sidewalk curbs and rolled down hills with the only side effect being pure laughter. I've watched clouds form shapes in the sky almost like magic, and I've walked barefoot in the grass without a worry in the world.
I've taken long walks with people who make me wish that the path we were on wouldn't end. I've watched sunsets and prayed in small groves of trees. I've felt my heart skip beats because I thought I was in love. I've waded in streams knowing without a doubt that my feet would leave footprints in every place I've tread, and known later that footsteps and hand-prints can remain in hearts as well.
And now... I grasp these beautiful moments tight because throughout the change and pain in life I find it significantly more difficult to experience these things. Or perhaps the difficulty is less from the lack of opportunities, and more from the lack of my ability to see artistry and charm because life can often be coated in tragedy, heartbreak, and pain.
So how does one compile all of the magic and the pain? How does one process the Olympic moments with the pitfalls and darkness? Perhaps the beauty of life is that we are not required to live it all at once, and we are not required to live it all by ourselves.
So, for now, I'm putting one foot in front of the other and leaning for dear life against the One who has experienced this all before. For now, I'm praying for eyes to see the magnificence that is so graciously placed before me, and I'm praying for fortitude in every ounce of pain and suffering that I may experience.
And most of all... I'm praying for all of the cuts and scars to be healed because carrying this all on my own has proved to be soul-destroying.
And then I seek for extra faith and practice deep trust. Because my God and my Savior have never let me down, left my side, or broke my heart, so why would I doubt for a second His infinite ability to heal my body, my heart, and my soul? For as I practice and reach for daily faith I'm reminded that God is writing an unforgettable and breathtaking story for me, and He's simultaneously preparing me for glory and joy that I can't comprehend in this life.
So may we all remember the enchanting moments that are perfectly ordinary. And may we all learn from life's agonies that prepare us for life's greatest joys. For no being can live in a state of endless bliss without missing some greater exquisiteness, and it's very possible to be in the midst of suffering while simultaneously witnessing miracles. There is room for all of it in life. And we must remember that there is a purpose for it all in life. As we do that, we'll walk paths that will bring us to our greatest peace and joy. And that's worth living for.
It recently occurred to me that I've been fooling myself. I've faithfully proclaimed on social media year after year since I was diagnosed my deep hope that the next year will be easier, or that it will be better than the year before. I've hoped, and prayed, and fought my way into society's view of a "better" and "easier" life, only to find that this "easier" life that I'm seeking for doesn't exist. There's no such thing as "easy" in the vocabulary of a chronic illness fighter, and it turns out that the moment you think that the chronic illness battle has become "better" or "easier," something else painful and heartbreaking will come along that will try your resilience and test your nerves. And then after you've made it through that trauma, your illness will flare again. Due to this eternal pattern that keeps kicking me, I have finally reached the point in my life where I can say that I am no longer hoping, wishing, or praying for an easier year ahead!
Sounds like I've reached the point of intense embitterment, but I wouldn't exactly call it that. In fact, I've finally discovered that this statement that I'm making isn't a negative or chaining statement at all. In fact, admitting to it is probably one of the most freeing experiences I've ever had!
For as long as I can remember, my family's motto has always been "we do hard things." I was taught growing up that working hard and doing things that appeared to be difficult would bless my life and create a stronger person inside me. I was taught that striving to achieve things that were seemingly out of my reach was healthy and something that should be practiced on a regular basis. Back then it never occurred to me that there was something harder out there than Saturday morning chores, striving for a 4.0 GPA, and losing a best friend. Hard things came and went when I was young, but eventually, there will come a time in all of our lives when those hard things won't just leave. There will come a time when those hard things stick around, and you'll find yourself on your knees begging for relief more than once.
I've been in that place for years now, and I think I'm finally beginning to understand and live the truth that adversity and affliction has a divine purpose. Things may not get easier in the moment, but that's okay. Because God promises us better things through our suffering and God sustains us every step of the way. It's through the hard things that I've developed sensitivity to God's precious mentoring that He blesses my life with.
C.S. Lewis says that "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." I think my world has been roused and it's been a loud and painful awakening, but completely worth it. Many of us have probably experienced that this year, and what a blessing to say that we've learned this lesson firsthand.
I'm not going to begin to pretend like I have life all figured out. In fact, I often find myself in prayer expressing how unsure I am about life. But there is one thing that I do know:
Sometimes life is absolutely awful. Sometimes it's blood, sweat, and tears to make it through the day. And sometimes it seems absolutely unbearable. Other times life is magical, joyous, romantic, and absolutely beautiful to the point where you can't seem to breathe in enough of the moment, and you wonder what you could have possibly done to be blessed with such a perfect moment in life. And other times life is somewhere in between... mundane and boring. And the reality is that in order to live life to the FULLEST, every single one of these experiences is absolutely necessary. Because without the pain we wouldn't appreciate the joy. And without the mundane, we wouldn't appreciate the magic. And the glorious truth is that we have a loving God who sustains us through it all. How loving and merciful He is to enable me to do the hard things, even if they seem to be never-ending.
So this year I'm not praying or hoping for things to be easier. I'm hoping and praying for the strength to endure the hard, the wisdom to appreciate the magic, the patience to remain hopeful through the mundane, and the courage to submit to God's will even if it's more difficult than past years. May we all have the ability to discover those places of balance and vitality in the year to come.
The holidays are meant to be joyful! Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on blessings throughout the year, and a time to express gratitude to loved ones and to our loving God who blesses us with more than we deserve or comprehend. So if that's true, then why does it simultaneously seem like the holidays are a time of mourning and grief for so many individuals who have suffered a loss of some sort? Why does a heavy heart often creep into our celebrations and merriness?
Suffering is a universal concept. We've all experienced loss in it's many relentless forms:
The loss of a job or an opportunity.
The loss of a loved one through death.
The loss of a loved one through betrayal, or simply the choice they made to leave.
The loss of health and therefore, quality of life.
The loss of hope that there is happiness and joy in the future.
At times the amount of loss in life seems unfair and insufferable.
The holidays are the time when it seem like our losses should return and magically reappear so the holes in our hearts can be filled for that short period of time when we're "supposed to be joyful." I often find myself wishing for the holes in my heart to be filled once more just for the holiday season... but life doesn't work like that. Instead we must find a way to fill those holes with new reasons to rejoice. This year I've found that obtaining a thankful heart might just be a tool in our toolbox to finding joy despite our grieving hearts or pained bodies.
When I was at my darkest place in my illness, I didn't believe that gratitude could change anything, and I often went about my day filled with bitterness and resent for people who were blessed to live their lives pain-free. Being thankful for what I have would do absolutely nothing in relieving my physical pain, so why should I try so hard when I felt I had nothing to be thankful for? Why should I try so hard now when my past pains often burden my heart in a way that seems unbearable in the moment? Gratitude will not take the PTSD from my nerves and mind. Gratitude won't make my heart any less heavy. Gratitude won't take my past or future flares from occurring. So does it matter at all?
The answer is yes! Practicing and expressing an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving changes you. Allowing thankfulness to envelop your heart and senses can be the difference between having a happy holiday and having a hollow holiday. Will it relieve all of the pain from the injustices of life? Of course not, but it will take the edge off in a way that gives you the power to endure the pain, and endure it well. A thankful heart often reminds us that there's always a reason to keep going, even if your circumstances are less than desirable.
With that said, there will always be times when gratitude will seem unreachable.
I didn't feel thankful during my panic attack today.
I didn't feel thankful during my endometriosis two weeks ago.
I didn't feel thankful when my heart pinched with pain when I was reminded of the loss of someone I love on Thanksgiving Day.
So what? Do we throw the towel in and quit? NO! We recognize that we're not always going to be happy, and allow ourselves to feel our pain. We then get up and trek onward with hope in our hearts for a better future and faith that God will give us the strength to endure. And when we feel like we can't even do that, we plead with our loving God and lean on His strength and gratitude until we can find it in ourselves. God is waiting to help us hold our burdens, we simply have to ask to put it in His hands for a time.
I'm not going to pretend to be the expert on gratitude. I'm not. But I invite you to take time to write five things you're thankful for everyday. IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. I never knew I had so many things to smile about until I took a little time everyday to be thankful. Even if you can only find gratitude for the chair that you are sitting in, it is more than some people have. So take time to feel and express gratitude. It may not take your pain, but it will transform your pain into something beautiful.
This year I'm thankful that the years past are over and that I don't have to live in that consistent darkness anymore. I'm thankful for the health I do have. I'm thankful for the people I've lost so that God can heal and open my heart to new people that I can love. I'm thankful for life, breath, and hope that my Savior, Jesus Christ, instills in my heart if I allow Him too. There's always something to be thankful for... we simply have to take time to see it.
I found myself reminiscing today. I found myself look back, and then regretting it. I frequently resist moments of nostalgia that creep into my mind merely because the happy memory is usually accompanied by a deep ache that penetrates the strongest of walls around my heart. Happy memories are often escorted by laughter that's been silenced, love that somehow managed to slip through my fingers, and time that's been burned over with more time. It often feels like the road behind me is coated with blood and ash which drives me to never look back and fear the moment I choose to take a step forward.
I suppose this is grief at it's finest. I often grieve the life I had before, or the life that never existed because it was replaced with pain and tears that were accompanied with my diagnosis. I often grieve when I watch young people that are out living their lives without a thought as to how they feel physically, or what they eat, or what they're breathing in. I suppose that ignorance is bliss... but I never got to experience that bliss in my first years of young adulthood, and I the grieve the idea that maybe I've missed something. I grieve the idea that my moments of bliss were replaced with heartache and pain... and that just can't be fair. Becoming so well acquainted with grief at such a young age just can't be fair.
I remember when I was six year old and my pet rabbit died. I cried for one night.
I recall when I was fifteen and my best friend betrayed me. I cried for a week.
I was sixteen when my "first love" broke up with me and I cried for a few weeks.
I was seventeen when I lost the presence of my mother in my life to a disease the robbed her of her quality of life. I cried every time I came home to her screams of pure agony.
I was eighteen when I lost my will to live after I was diagnosed with the same disease I watched my mother suffer from for so long. I cried for years as I fought long and hard for my life. I still cry if I think about those moments for too long.
Perhaps I'm just an "emotional person." Perhaps I don't have what it takes to cope with real life. Perhaps some of those things were silly at the time and weren't worth my tears... but despite everything, I've found that it's possible that our hearts are meant to bleed this hard. Maybe we were meant to be broken so we can be healed and revived twice as strong. Maybe life is fair simply because it's so unfair for everyone. How does one experience pure joy if they are never exposed raw pain?
I've bled and cried, I've kicked and screamed, I've complained and raged, I've faithfully and willfully continued to put one foot in front of the other despite the hardship. And what's come from it all is a sense of comfort despite the strong discomfort that plagues me regularly. I suppose the kind of bliss that comes from ignorance isn't really bliss at all because someday you'll find yourself in the sick bed... and you'll wonder what went wrong... just like I did.
I've come to love my sensitive nature. I've come to appreciate my keen sense of air pollution and unreal food. I've come to smile at the funny looks I get from people who can't comprehend why I eat organic. I often ask myself who in their right mind would want bliss if it is required to be accompanied with ignorance? I've come to realize that joy and bliss are two different things, and wisdom doesn't come with age... it comes with suffering...
I've come to gain a deep love for people who suffer on deep and penetrating levels. I've gained a deep respect for people who suffer in ways that change them forever. Suffering that erases the ignorance and replaces it with a sense of comfort and peace even in the storm of discomfort and pain.
These kinds of people are warriors. These kinds of people are the people that have been sculpted in the midst of adversity. These people have let go and let God transform them into beings of light and vitality. These are the people that have discovered great depth in life. These are the people that have experienced the great ache that leads to resilience and fortitude that I myself have not yet mastered.
Perhaps hearts were meant to bleed this much. Perhaps bodies where meant to break down. Perhaps tears were meant to be shed. Not because we live in a cruel universe... but because God has a Divine Design that can transform blood into healing, breaking in wholeness, and tears of grief into tears of rejoicing. May we all learn that lesson in hopes that we can grow in strength and everlasting joy.
Perhaps we all need to reminisce sometimes... Because the past is at times our greatest teacher and mentor. And in the meantime, I've come to love the sound of my feet walking in the direction that God intends for them to be... because the blood and ash behind me doesn't matter at the sight of beauty and light ahead of me.
There is one truth that for the longest time I never believed for myself. But now I believe it, and I want everyone who suffers on levels such as this to know:
HEALING IS POSSIBLE. HEALING CAME FOR ME, AND IT WILL COME FOR YOU TO!
Healing is not something that occurs in one swift motion. Healing does not come in an instant, and healing isn't an easy process. Healing is a cleansing process. A cleansing process of one's mind, heart, and soul. Healing is a choice. We are NOT a result of what happens to us in our lives. We are a result of how we REACT to what happens to us. There are things that will come that are completely out of our control, but how we choose to react to those things will determine our destiny. If we choose wisely, we can experience healing along the road that at times will seem relentlessly long.
And here's the good news: WE ARE NOT ALONE ON OUR PATH TOWARDS HEALING! Isn't that a glorious message!? We have a loving and merciful God who is there for us every step of the way. We have a Savior who knows EXACTLY what we are going through because he suffered all of these pains we feel long before we felt them. And we have angels that we cannot see who are there to love and support us and they are fighting our battles with us. You see, we are never truly alone on our painful journeys. That was something I had to learn before I was able to get up, overcome the initial shock, and move forward in faith.
Healing doesn't come through choosing to be the victim in any certain circumstance, and for me I had to push past the agony that was taking place in my mind and heart, and make specific decisions and take action towards healing. Small choices I made back then made a massive impact on the state of my heart as time passed. These are action steps that every single one of us can make. And no, making these decisions doesn't make the heart-stopping pain hurt less, and it doesn't induce instant healing, but it teaches and heals one step, one second, one minute, and one day at a time.
These are the things I had to experience in order to reach healing:
1. I had to decide right away that I wasn't going to let this destroy me. Throughout the course of events I resolved to be strong even if I felt like the weakest person on the face of the earth. For so long I felt like a little girl that couldn't control her feelings or emotions. I felt insane and I figured that my sanity was out of my control at the time. To a point it was... there were things I couldn't control. I couldn't control the deep ache that settled in my chest for weeks. I couldn't control my inability to sleep, or my lack of appetite due to the nausea that seemed to follow me everywhere. I couldn't control the horrific nightmares I had when I did sleep, and I couldn't control feeling overwhelmingly heavy all the time, almost as if an elephant was constantly sitting on me.
So, I took hold of the things I could control. I controlled how often I fell on my knees and talked with my Heavenly Father. I controlled opening up God's word and reading to find peace and wisdom. I controlled the fact that I wouldn't allow myself to be left alone at any given time for the first little while. I controlled who I spoke to and who I did not. I controlled which texts and phone calls I answered and which ones I did not. I was constantly seeking for peace. Hidden in all of these little insignificant choices was my deep desire to not let this tragedy destroy me. I wanted so desperately to be strong, and I learned along the way that all of us are blessed with that strength inside of us. God is more powerful than pain, and He can bless us with extra strength if we so choose to develop it.
2. I decided to find myself by losing myself in the service of others. One wise teacher, mentor, and friend once told me that "you find yourself by losing yourself in the service of others." I figured in this case I didn't have anything else to lose so I might as well distract myself at least. I expressed at one point my deep and painful feelings to this friend who offered me the opportunity to come volunteer as his TA for a semester at a local high school. I'd be working with high school seniors, and for whatever reason I felt a desperate need to except his offer.
Without going into great detail about that glorious experience, I have to admit that it was a MASSIVE blessing at this time in my life to get to know those high school seniors. Being greeted with "Good morning Miss Dalton!" every morning brought such joy to my soul for a time, and my heart felt full with love for those bright and beautiful teenagers that I was working with. Serving others played a tremendous role in my healing process, and it can in yours too. It's all a part of opening up your heart again to be able to love. Love is the greatest healing power in the entire world, and when I let a small piece of my heart love again, it meant the beginning of that small piece being mended and restored little by little.
3. I had to purge my past and forgive. Forgiveness was one of my more difficult tasks on my path to healing. I wanted to believe that I had forgiven him from the beginning. And I had reached forgiveness to a point, but I hadn't let it all go. I spent so much time being angry at him for destroying me. I spent so much time agonizing and reliving those moments of horror. I spent so much time feeling terrified of the people I came in contact or with, or afraid that maybe I didn't have a future past this experience. Honestly, I had to experience those difficult feelings in order to truly forgive and surrender my past in a way that doesn't let it define my future. Along the way I learned some things about forgiveness.
First, forgiveness does not mean putting yourself in a place where your heart keeps breaking. It doesn't mean reinserting yourself into someones life who has hurt you tremendously. Sometimes we have to love and forgive people from a distance, and that's okay. Second, forgiveness is not the same as excusing. We do not have to excuse someone's wrongdoing in order to forgive them. In fact, the more we allow ourselves to experience and recognize the damage that has been done, the greater our capacity to forgive, change, and move on. And third, forgiveness creates a safe space to allow God to heal your heart. Restitution for me came from my Savior, and it came in the form of healing and restoration of my heart and mind. Once I achieved forgiveness with the help of the Savior, I was able to feel free again which opened my heart up to be healed and purge the negative emotions I had towards the one who had wronged me. We all have that power to forgive. And if we don't have that power in the beginning, pray for that power. God will bless you with the innate power to forgive and move on.
4. I had to give all of my pain to my Savior. I remember a very specific time in the course of events where I learned this crucial life lesson. I had just moved with my parents, I was in a new place, and I had met some new people that I was terrified to open up to or think about to much. I was sitting on the edge of my bed one night in horrendous emotional pain. I felt panicky and weak and my heart hurt tremendously. I felt confused and angry and I sobbed uncontrollably for the loss of my peace of mind. It had been months... I should be over it... I shouldn't be hurting so much. In that moment I wondered if I would ever feel peace again.
At the time a thought came to mind that I had read about how the Savior is just waiting to heal us of our wounds and misfortunes, but in order for us to allow Him to heal our hearts, we have to ask for healing. It occurred to me at that moment that I had not yet simply asked for Him to take my pain. It seemed impossible for one moment of inquiry to heal such a wounded and broken down heart. But I had to try, and I had to muster up enough faith for healing to occur. I retreated to my knees and pleaded with the Lord to heal me. To take my pain. And I remember clearly stating, "Please... I don't want this anymore!"
At the conclusion of my prayer I felt stillness, and I felt an obvious lift in my heart. I felt anger melt into the floor, and I felt peace fill my soul as the tears flooded down my face. I knew in that moment that my prayer had been heard, and that I was currently in the process of having it be answered. My merciful Heavenly Father was going to take all my broken pieces and build them into something beautiful. I just had to excersise patience, and after that moment, my grief and pain in the days to come was less intense, less excruciating, and more bearable. It was nothing short of a miracle and I know it's because when we lay our burdens at our Savior's feet, He heals us.
5. I had to recognize that I still had worth. I was broken, wounded, damaged... I've used those words to describe myself so many times. I knew that to most men I was "damaged goods," and in my mind I didn't disagree, and I didn't believe that I had anything to give or offer anymore. But in order to experience healing, I had to learn differently.
Nobody is ever just eternally broken or damaged unless they choose to be that way. I have so much worth, and so much to give in my interactions with others. I may be broken, and I may have some scars, but my brokenness has transformed me into something beautiful. It's ironic because in the midst of it all, in the past year my capacity to love others has grown. I know now that someday when I discover the man who I was meant to be with, my love for him won't be any less because of the love that I had for the man who hurt me.
You're not broken! You're not damaged! You're not worthless! And in the sight of God, you have infinite power and ability to love and be loved, and continue on your path towards success and happiness. That was something I wish I would have understood faster, because it's so crucial when we are healing to know who we are, and by knowing who we are, we can take back our power that God blesses us with to prosper and live life to the fullest.
6. I had to be thankful. Gratitude is essential for healing. Either I was cursed because I lost who I thought was the love of my life. Or I was blessed because I was saved from being put in a situation that would have destroyed me so much more if it would have gone on longer. I've come to know that I was gloriously blessed, and I thank my Heavenly Father every day for saving me without me even knowing that I needed to be saved. When we express gratitude, we open our hearts to healing and happiness and let go of things that we no longer need to hold on to. It's not easy to find gratitude after such horrific experiences, but it's possible to find it. We simply start by seeking for the desire to be thankful. After that, it will come if we exercise faith.
6. I have to keep striving. Stop crying. Get out of bed. Put one foot in front of the other. And continue on in faith doing the things you know you should be doing, and the rest will fall into place. You don't get anywhere in life if you spend it crying in a bed or a chair. You experience peace and healing by living and moving forward. And I will be the first to admit that it is not always easy. There will be days for a long, long time where you grieve and cry. There will be days where you will feel like you cannot continue. There will be days where all of your feelings come to the surface in the form of tears. And there will be days you just want to scream because you cannot avoid the prickly parts of healing from trauma.
But I promise you that there will also be days where you find unexpected smiles creeping across your lips. There will be days when you'll meet new people that you're meant to love and be loved by. There will be days when you find yourself laughing again. There will be days when you'll experience joy in the moment, peace for the past, and hope for the future. These moments are what make the painful moments completely worth it.
Healing is possible. It doesn't come instantly but IT DOES COME. There are still days that I hurt and struggle. There are still days that I have to relive the past. There are still days that I experience longing and hopelessness, but they get less and less the more I strive for healing. It's important to remember that you are always loved. And there is ALWAYS help and happiness ahead.