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 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.
"What is Lyme Disease?"
I've come to know that the MOST common question that any Lymie receives is the aforementioned question above. I've found myself answering this question dozens of times, and I am quickly reminded how tragic the Lyme epidemic is due to the lack of information and education that the average person has on the topic. There is nothing "rare" about Lyme disease, as there are 27,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the United States every MONTH! And yet those who do not suffer from it often seem to turn a blind eye to it because the medical system has caused society to believe that it "doesn't exist." As a Lyme survivor myself, I can attest that it does exist, and it is one of the most challenging adversities that I believe a human being can suffer from.
So what is Lyme disease? Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can spread to virtually any organ system in the body due to its spiral shape that easily can drill into any tissue, cell, muscle, or organ. Lyme disease and its co-infections can attack its victim and leave it completely paralyzed or in severe and unbearable pain for years, and Lyme disease is a constant battle to fight and the chances of beating it are slim to none. And yet there are thousands who fight every day, despite the harsh reality that is Lyme disease. Lyme disease is science, and yet it is so much more.
Lyme disease is pain. More pain than I ever believed a single human being could bear on their own until I was forced to bear it myself and watch many of my loved ones bear it as well. Lyme disease is loneliness, isolation, and insufferable boredom as you spend a lot of the time waiting for a treatment to work (or not work), waiting to feel better, waiting on doctors and support that never comes, and waiting to be well enough to be able to live life like anyone else. Lyme disease is blowing all your money on treatment that you don't even know will work, trying anything and everything to feel better, and crying in prayer during many dark nights because it's impossible to endure on your own. Lyme disease is hoping. Because sometimes when you've been stripped of everything, hope is the only thing you have left. And let's not forget that Lyme disease is resilience, patience, perseverance, and at times its just pure grit. Lyme leaks into everything, and it changed my life. And it is currently changing the lives of thousands and millions of others who are fighting the good fight every day of their lives.
Why is it important that we seek to crush Lyme? Because with so many suffering, we have to fight to crush the disease before it crushes us. And if we all ban together on this issue, we may find that doctors, friends, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters will start to listen to us. And once that happens we can change the world. We can offer more help and hope for the hands that hang down by the crushing the grip of Lyme.
So the next time you find yourself talking to a fellow Lymie, take time to LISTEN and offer love and compassion. That small act can truly be one big step into crushing Lyme disease and the stigma that comes with it. Lyme disease may try to crush us, but it never will because we do not intend to quit anytime soon.
This post was inspired by Splash of Lyme's "Crushing Lyme" campaign. You can follow this amazing Lyme warrior by following @splashoflyme on Instagram and checking out her amazing blog here. Thanks so much to Courtney for starting this and for sending love to all the Lymies this Lyme Disease Awareness month!
Stay in bed and cry all day, and you're not trying hard enough.
Show improvement and look beautiful, and you're not actually sick.
Share your terrifying reality with others, and you're seeking attention.
Keep to yourself and pretend that everything is okay, and you're not actually sick.
Smile, and you're not in pain.
Cry, and you're in more pain than the people around you can tolerate.
I've found myself spinning this dizzy cycle in my head lately and trying to understand how I'm supposed to act and feel as someone with a chronic illness. I've found myself listening to the discouragement that comes from this vicious cycle from other chronic illness warriors. And I've seen lots of posts on social media expressing the same concerns in attempts to understand what exactly we're supposed to look and feel like as chronically ill people.
Unfortunately this perception that other people can sometimes give is frustrating and causes a lot of guilt and an unnecessary inward struggle. I often put extra pressure on myself because apparently there is a certain "look" that chronically ill people have and if we don't fit that particular "look" then we're not an acceptable sick person. The irony of that is that nobody actually knows what that "look" is. They just believe that it's different from whatever vibe we're giving off.
I believe this pattern can be found in any kind of misunderstood suffering. If you haven't been through it yourself, you don't understand, and while it's okay to not understand, it's also important that we increase our love and compassion towards that level of suffering because generally, the person is already suffering enough without that extra pressure. We don't need to put that pressure on ourselves or others because the reality is that PAIN AND JOY CAN COEXIST, and it's okay!
Your Traumas Don't Define You
"I don't want to be known as the sick girl."
I remember having that thought when I was at my worst. I remember feeling extreme frustration from my desire for people to offer extra love and kindness that I desperately needed at the time, but also to know that there is more to me than Lyme disease. It seemed to me like I couldn't have both and I remember feeling like I was never enough because I was now some disease that controlled my entire life and trashed my hopes and dreams for my future.
Fortunately, that was never the case at all, and I've since learned that it's not your traumas that define you. I have Lyme disease. That doesn't mean I am Lyme disease. Your traumas, afflictions, and adversities in life are there to shape and refine you into the person that God intends for you to be. They exist to soften you and shape you. It's through the furnace of fire that we become flexible and transformed into something beautiful. The piece of coal that never had to undergo heat and pressure was still just a piece of coal in the end. We may come out with a few burns. We may be wounded. But we're not eternally broken or stamped with our eternal label. Nobody comes out of this life with a big stamp on their forehead that states their largest trauma.
It's not our traumas that define us, but how we choose to respond to those trials. And sometimes our response is a day in bed or a day in tears or simply doing the best we can do at the time, and that's okay. And other times that response is laughing through the tears and smiling through the heartache, and I've learned that those days are often some of the best days. Some of those days are the days that we learn important life lessons that change us forever. On those days there is no "look" that I feel the need to have. It's just me in my most raw form, and sometimes that form is exactly what I need to be in the moment.
A friend once told me that it's okay to cry. It's okay to stay in bed for a little while. It's okay to be debilitated for a moment. Just don't freeze. The joyful message is that even in moments of pain and paralysis, we don't have to freeze. We can continue on to the best of our ability with hopeful hearts. Our best efforts are always counted in the sight of the Lord, and when we're given that knowledge, we don't have to submit to all the views of other people. When we press forward the best we know how in our adversities, we can come to a place of self-love where we can be happy with our own state of being, whether that be in tears or in laughter.
How is it possible for joy and pain to coexist?
I've often found in life that opposites can regularly coexist. I've found that I can make a list of things I love about myself, while simultaneously making a list of things I hate about myself. I've found that I can be in pain and still find things to smile about. I've found that even when I feel hopeless, there's still hope in the journey.
How is that possible? How can pain and joy exist at the same time? That phenomenon is made possible through a loving God who keeps His promises, and a Savior who was sent to succor and sustain us when we can't manage to sustain ourselves.
First, God promises us that ALL trials come to an end, even if the end isn't seen in this life.
John testifies in the book of Revelation of the people who "come out of great tribulation and have sanctified themselves... that God will wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Revelation 7:14-17)
He then later testifies of God's people and how "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." (Revelation 21:5)
And then there is our Savior, who He Himself declared at the end of His sufferings: "It is finished." (John 19:30) There will come a day when every single one of us will be able to declare that "it is finished." Our sufferings do come to an end, not always through death, but through healing and enabling love and power made possible through Christ.
That fact alone is something to rejoice about.
Second, God consecrates all of our afflictions for our good and promises us that our glory in heaven will be returned twice as much as our suffering on earth.
Peter tells us that the trial of our faith is more precious than gold. And "although we may be tried with fire we can be found unto praise, honor, and glory at the appearing of Christ." (1 Peter 1:7)
He then later tells us to "think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (1 Peter 4:12-13)
God reveals to us in those words that we can REJOICE during our fiery trials. That does not diminish our pain. That doesn't say that we're not actually suffering on such a horrendous level. That doesn't tell us that we're not allowed to feel our pain because that's a sign of weakness, and we lack faith if we feel pain. It declares to us that suffering isn't a strange thing to our Father, and He understands, and He promises hope for a better future. We can be ourselves, and we can find joy in the moment. Not the kind of joy that promises no pain and tear-less eyes, but an inward joy that declares in our hearts that this too will pass.
It's okay to look like you're struggling. It's okay to look happy and beautiful. You should absolutely share your reality with others, and if you feel the need to fake it until you make it then that's okay too! It's okay to smile when you're in pain, and it's okay to cry in front of people even if it makes them uncomfortable! Life is full of ups and downs that we were meant to experience. And as we become accustomed to pain, we are granted the blessing to experience joy, even in the midst of suffering.
Thank goodness for a merciful God and Savior who loves us through it all.
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.
When a person undergoes such a deep traumatic event that is the betrayal of a loved one's trust in such a circumstance as mine, there are two realizations that occur. These realizations came so quickly for me, and they destroyed me to a point where I couldn't feel anything in the moment. I simply felt dreadfully numb.
The first gut wrenching realization was the betrayal itself. I felt like I'd been cheated on. It changed my entire relationship with him including all the happy memories that we had shared in the past. It made me feel worthless and unlovable. It made me feel like it was all my fault, and if I would have just done one thing or another differently, I could have changed something. The betrayal itself cut like a knife, but the second realization cut even harder.
My second realization was that someone I loved and cared for deeply had been expertly lying to me for the entire length of our relationship, and possibly longer since we had been friends for so long. All at once I was with a stranger instead of the person I thought I knew so well. In an instant I could never trust those lying eyes ever again. In order to lie to somebody that you spend such large amounts of time with, it takes expertise thought and effort to hide such a big secret. So not only did he lie, but he planned carefully how to lie and get away with it. And not once did it ever cross his mind how much that would hurt me. That fact stung. It stung deep, and it stung hard. All I ever wanted in a relationship was honesty, and it quickly occurred to me that the only honesty I'd known at that point in time was fake.
Neither of these deep realizations felt real to me at first. I woke up every morning for quite some time thinking that maybe it was just a sick joke and tomorrow would be better and back to "normal." It seemed so unreal to me, and I didn't know how I was ever going to live my life without him, or without my "happy wedding" going through. Along with everything else I was feeling, I felt dreadful loneliness deeper than I've ever felt before, or that I've ever felt since.
These intense feelings lasted for quite some time, and there were days that I wondered if I had lost my mind, or my sanity... or both. Nothing seemed to make complete sense to me as I was forced to navigate functioning in this cold and distant reality while everyone else went on with their lives in the present. I felt stuck as I learned that navigating this form of trauma was something I had to take one day at a time.
The first signs of healing were the greatest blessing to me. The first signs of healing were like a massive weight being lifted off my shoulders by some Power beyond my own. That first taste of healing came in the form of less tears and a clearer mind. At one point I had finally lost the constant feeling of needing to scream all the time, and that elephant that was sitting on me finally left my presence. When that occurred the tightness in my throat and the constant nausea lifted and I felt incredibly thankful. The first bits of relief made me feel like I'd been delivered into a place where I could function in the present again, and I began to find myself and navigate my new skin. What I didn't know was that navigating my new skin would not be an easy task.
My new skin... I didn't even know I had shed an old skin. I just felt awkward and uncomfortable most of the time, and I didn't completely understand why. I felt vulnerable at that time, and as I learned to navigate my new skin that vulnerability beamed a little too brightly.
First, I found myself talking too much. Up until then I'd spent most of my life like a little mouse too afraid to say anything in fear of "rocking the boat," or "offending someone." Now, as if in one fell swoop, I couldn't get myself to stop speaking my mind. It's like I woke up one day and realized that I had intelligent things to say, and then I resolved to not let anything stop me from saying them. I felt like I had a story to tell, and I was going to tell anyone and everyone who was willing to listen. I rolled the events in my life over in my head a million times, and as a result of that I probably rolled those thoughts over to a half a dozen random people. Some of those people left deep hand-prints on my heart as they played an incredibly important role in my healing process simply because they were willing to listen. Some are now some of my closest friends, to which I'm thankful for that unique time in my life.
After this odd phase of grief, I went through what I felt at the time was a relapse. I spent many long nights crying myself to sleep, grieving over what I'd lost, and trying to keep silent about it because I didn't want to burden anyone with past pain that very much manifested itself in the present moment. I told myself it was past and I had no reason to be hurting this greatly now. I learned later that what I was experiencing was completely normal, and you don't just overcome trauma in a few months time.
Believe it or not, that phase of grief passed as well, and little by little I started to feel like myself again. I suppose that brings us to the here and now. It's been one year, and I feel like a completely different person. It's funny how pain increases your capacity to feel both the good and the bad...
I am now driven to tears so much easier than I used to be.
When others express their pain to me, I quite literally can feel their pain.
Fear is a constant companion of mine.
The thought of opening my heart up to someone again makes me feel sick and panicky.
I almost always feel suspicious of the people around me that I don't know.
The walls around my heart are stronger than ever and it's going to take a miracle to break them down.
I don't trust people. I just don't.
The problem with walls is that the resolve to have such a strong defense is lonely and isolating. But it's so much easier to resolve to never love again because if I stay on my own, I don't have to fear the cost of betrayal, or the cost of a broken heart. Such dilemmas as this are not things that I will even pretend to have figured out, because I have not. But... I do know that with the negative impact there have also been blessings...
I have discovered my strong will and determination to stand for what's right.
I now found the courage to speak my mind and the temperance to hold my tongue when necessary.
I have a new sense of resilience that rests in my heart at all times.
I have recognized that after such a deep wound to the heart comes the greater capacity to love those around me.
I have also identified the need that everybody has for compassion and the great ability I have to offer that love and compassion to those in my life who are going through difficult things.
I have gained a greater faith and hope in God's plan for me and for His eternal perspective of my life's purpose.
My trust in people my be slim to none, but my trust in God has increased ten fold and continues to sustain me through the pains that I still sometimes suffer from.
Betrayal trauma is real. It's long term effects are real. And the pain it causes is real. As a victim of betrayal trauma, you have every right to feel your pain at it's true capacity. And then once you've recognized the true capacity of that pain, it gives you the power to be able to shed it and then create something beautiful out of it.
I feel as though I'm walking on a tightrope with me on one end, and all of my possible dreams for the future on the other. As I carefully force my aching and trembling body to take one careful step at a time, there's this constant fear that nags at the back of my neck that someone, at any given moment, is going to walk up behind me and push me just enough to send me plummeting to the deepest depths of despair. Thankfully that hasn't happen yet. I'm still carefully placing one foot of my broken body in front of the other, and with that I slowly get one step closer to fulfilling my dreams, even if they are miles and miles away.
My entire life all I've wanted to be is a wife and mother. Ever since I was old enough to know what marriage was, I knew that was where I wanted to be "when I grew up." I envisioned my future husband, my future children, and my future home centered on God, love for Him, and love for each other. As I grew up I would make lists of things I would and wouldn't do as a mother, and lists of what my husband would be like. I would look at picture of homes and decide what I wanted mine to be like. I watched my mother raise all of my siblings, and me, and I took careful note of the loving and beautiful way she treated us, and her husband. I took careful watch of my dad, and how he treated my mother, and I took mental note of how I wanted my future husband to be "just like that." My vision was clear, and every decision I've ever made in my life has been conducive to that dream. That's all I've ever wanted. I believe that the amount of money you make does not determine success. My belief has always been that success is discovered through family, and the love and fulfillment that comes from having one.
The day I got diagnosed with Lyme Disease, was the day that all of dreams went flying out the window and off into a distant existence where I could no longer reach them. It was the day where I began my endless basket of questions for the future, and since then it's only gotten bigger and bigger. I don't know if my dreams are reachable at this point. And it scares me to think that I'll never be able to be the woman that an amazing man gets to come home to everyday. It scares me to think that I'll never have those babies that I'd get to raise and love. It scares me to think that my home centered on God, will never be.
I have other dreams too. I've always wanted to open a vocal studio. and give to children the incredible miracle of music that my first voice teacher gave to me. I've always wanted to write a novel. One that inspires and uplifts the human soul. I've always wanted to take my voice, and perform with the objective to uplift and inspire peoples lives. I've always wanted to learn how to cook. I've always wanted to become a teacher. I've always wanted to be the perfect homemaker and continuously develop skills that would make it so I could do that. I've always wanted to be someone. I've always wanted to help people.
But how will I ever reach such a far away destination when I'm stuck at home in bed, suffering so bad that I don't even know if I'll make it out alive?
I don't know the complete answer to that, but I'd like to try and answer it anyway.
.Chronic illness is something that you take one minute at a time. Not one day, one week, one month, or even one hour, but one minute. In fact, there are some days that I feel as though I'm taking it one second at a time. And with each precious pain, anxiety, and stress free second, I count that second as a blessing given to me from my loving Heavenly Father. Every piece of strength I manage to muster at any moment I consider a gift from God. I can not do this alone, and I'm grateful that God is always with me.
In every battle, there is always a secret weapon. My secret weapon in this battle is faith. Faith keeps me fighting, and faith keeps my hope for the future. I keep telling myself every moment of the day that I have to keep my faith. Faith that I'm going to get better. Faith that I can fight this and come out stronger. Faith that God is always with me. Faith that God can heal me. Or even faith that I won't be healed, but that I'll find a way to live happily, despite my broken down body, mind, heart, and soul. Without my faith, I am nothing, and my hope that I am so desperately trying to obtain slowly vanishes into thin air.
Some days I have faith that I'll get better, and other days I feel hopeless and despairingly distraught. I look at it this way. Every day I try to do at least one thing that brings me joy. Even if it's microscopically small. If I successfully accomplish one small thing, then I'm not finished yet. Lyme hasn't won yet, and I don't intend on letting it. This trial in my life is incredibly hard, but I want to stay strong. I want to fight this battle, and I want to win. I'm exhausted in every sense of the word, but I can't give up. I just can't.
I'm so grateful to my Savior for giving me the strength I need to continuously fight this. I'm so grateful for the support that comes from my family and others that I hold close to my heart. This is a lonely battle, but knowing that I'm never completely alone is extremely comforting. I'm not giving up yet, and even though the tears streaming down my face scream fear, anxiety, and hopelessness for my future, my faith says otherwise. I intend on keeping my faith in the present in order to dispel my fear for the future. I'll still have my home, my husband, and my children. It just my be a little different vision that I had before. The important thing is that the vision I had of endless amounts of love that takes place in my future will not change, Lyme or no Lyme. In times of fear, my faith will always come out conqueror.
I lay on the couch on Monday afternoon with a good book and a cup of herbal tea. My body felt heavy under my own weight and my head felt similar to a bag of bricks. My eyes felt heavy and my hands shook from all the pressure in my joints. I've had the opportunity throughout my life to get particularly comfortable with the constant companion of nausea, brain fog, cognitive dysfunction, weakness of limbs, and tremors. I've had those for so long it's almost like they're a part of me. But this pain was different. This pain was heavy and exhausting. I almost felt like I was getting a bad case of the flu. At the time, I had no idea what I was in for.
Night came and by then I was paralyzed with pain. Sleeping was impossible. Every time I would lay on one side for too long, it would start to hurt and I would have to roll over to my other side which caused a whole new strew of pain. The bricks in my head turned into a sledge hammer gouging into my skull. The heaviness of my muscles morphed into throbbing pain that bit at every muscle is my body. My spine felt like it was being wrung like an old rag, and my hips felt like someone was trying to detach them from my waist. My legs felt like the muscles were being pounded with a mallet and my feet felt like they didn't even belong to me anymore. Everything was constantly spinning. Everything was throbbing. Everything hurt. I have never been in such terrible pain in my entire life. I've felt lots of pain before, but this was pure horror.
The majority of this lasted for three days. Three days straight of intense pain. One night in attempts to get up and out of bed by myself, I passed out. I hit my head, and bruised my hip on my hard kitchen floor. All I remember is opening my eyes and wondering why I wasn't laying in my bed. I then recalled everything and knew exactly why I wasn't in bed. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry for help. I wanted to punch something. I had every emotion at once while simultaneously feeling nothing at all. All I can say is I would never wish that pain upon anybody. EVER.
Well I'm happy to say I made it out alive. My pain subsided for the most part and I'm not dead yet. I'm still sore and recovering. I feel like I've been badly beaten up and am barely crawling away from it, but I'm one herx closer to being completely healed from this awful illness and that alone gives me hope. Thank goodness for hope. I will never let go of my hope, for it is my source of peace through this hard and discouraging time.
After this past week, I've gained a new appreciation for my life, for my body, and for the amazing people in my life. I wake up in the mornings now and feel like I'm 80 years old. My body is just sore and my heart and soul are exhausted. But after all of that pain, I'm so grateful. I'm grateful for the ability to walk all by myself, and I'm grateful to be able open my eyes without them hurting. I'm grateful that I can use my hands without joint pain, and I'm grateful that even though my body doesn't feel like it functions properly, it's still functioning. It's still working. It's not giving up. I'm not giving up.
I'm so grateful for all the people around me that love and support me. I feel incredibly blessed to have certain people that I love so much be a part of my life right now. I could not do this without them. Most of all I'm grateful for my amazing parents who never left my side, who stayed up with me all those nights, who provided me with comfort, and who peeled my half dead carcass off the floor after I passed out and brought me back to bed. Thank goodness for my amazing, patient, kindhearted, and loving parents. I can not walk this journey alone. Thank goodness that God has provided me with the amazing people I need to help me through it.
I'm incredibly grateful for one more thing, a huge blessing in my life. I'm truly grateful for my Savior, Jesus Christ. Without Him I would not have gotten through all that pain and suffering. I would be done. There were times when I wanted to be done, but through the Savior's healing power I somehow managed to pull through. Thank goodness for that. I love my God, and my Savior with all my heart. The tender mercies of the Lord that are given to me on a daily basis are truly what get me through life right now, and I am incredibly grateful.
I've shed a lot of tears this week, but I truly believe that tears are a beautiful form of expression. My tears are not a sign of weakness or failure, but an expression of strength and steadfastness. I'm not a quitter, and I'm not giving up yet. I'm a warrior, and I intend on beating this thing no matter how hard I have to fight. So to all the warriors out there, here's a piece of hope. It's not over yet. Keep fighting. It's always rough on the battlefield, but when you come out victorious, you'll remember how hard you fought, and it'll all be worth it.