Any other way

Today’s post is written by Jessica Nicol, a former student of mine, who has truly had her fair share of traumatic experiences this semester. In the midst of them, she has managed to maintain her composure and serenity to the best of her ability, and I think she’s become a stronger person as a result. I’ve always heard that the situations and problems we face in life either make us better or bitter–the choice is ours. Thankfully, Jessica seems to be making the better choice.

February 12th, 2015:

“But you’re not. You’re not selfish, you hit the nail on the head, you’re human. Plus, your life is way more put together than mine. At least you have a job. At least you know what you want to do with your life. I don’t have a clue. My goals in life right now are 1) Not die and 2) Love Jessica with all that I have.”

“I love you.”

February 13th, 2015:

“I didn’t see Taken 3 playing at this theater online.”

“Checked Searcy, too, and not playing there either.”

“Are you ever going to answer me? We have plans tonight. You do remember, right? :/”

About this time, I got a call from my boyfriend’s mom asking me what I was doing and if someone was there with me that she could talk to. I knew in that moment that something was terribly wrong. You see, my parents and his parents have not yet met; yes I know, we have been dating over a year now, and our parents haven’t met. Anyway, I knew when she wanted to speak to one of them that something had happened. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched my mother’s facial expressions change with every word that his mother had uttered. “Mom, Mom, what’s wrong?” As she hung up my cellphone, she told me that Nick had been in an accident and that he was medflighted to UAMS and was in surgery as we spoke. I felt nothing just completely and utterly numb. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t move. I could do nothing. I just stared into space. At one point my mom told me I could cry, but I really couldn’t.

The night before, I had been upset with him because he hadn’t told me that he was going to be in South Carolina helping his sister move for five days and that he was leaving that Sunday. I had only learned that night, and I yelled at him and asked him if he’d forgotten to tell me something. He was almost in tears. He tried to apologize and said he had forgotten. Of course, I didn’t understand because how can someone forget to tell their girlfriend that they were going to be 12 hours away for a week? Was he going to just up and leave and I was supposed to find out after he left? We had plans the thirteenth to go to dinner and see a movie because we didn’t get to have date nights often since I had taken a full-time key holder position at work. I missed being able to see him when I wanted to. Of course, plans changed.

Once I learned of this news, I was scared. We didn’t know his condition or whether he was going to make it through. All I wanted was for him to live. Before the accident, I had not been completely certain of this relationship. I had loved him, but I was reluctant to give it my all. I had a lot of pain in my younger years of living, especially with men, and I just wasn’t completely trusting. When I heard he was in critical condition, all of that washed away. I wanted to be able to feel the touch of his hand on my face again and hear him tell me he loved me again. Everything was all a blur. I had finally known that this relationship was the one I wanted to be in for the rest of my life. He may have been struggling to find a job and get his life together, but that was only temporary. That was not going to be forever. How dare I let someone who loves me so much and would never hurt me for anything go? How could I even want someone else to have my happy ending?

On Valentine’s Day, I was able to go to UAMS and spend some time with Nick. I was given orders the day of the accident to stay home until his parents knew if he was going to be okay or not. I understood that they were trying to protect me. I was so relieved to arrive at the hospital and walk into that hospital room and see Nick again. I sucked in my tears and tried to be strong for him. I knew he was in an enormous amount of pain because of all of the injuries he had sustained in the collision. I won’t go into all of his injuries, but the one that is the most pressing right now is his hip. His right hip was shattered in the accident and had to be put back together. Because of this, his sciatic nerve was bruised. That nerve and his hip are healing well, but he feels flares of pain in his toes, and his hip hurts often. I hate to see him hurting as much as he is. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes involuntarily.

I’ve been so afraid that he is going to become tired of me or not want to be in a relationship with me anymore that it’s unreal. I’m sick of feeling insecure all of the time, but it’s always been a problem for me. I do know that Nick wants nothing more than for me to be happy, and I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with him. I have sat next to him nearly every day since he has been home from the hospital and taken care of him as best I can. His parents leave me with him sometimes when they need to go out for church or something. It’s nice to feel like I’m needed and useful. In some way I’m thankful for this incident because it has made us closer and stronger. It’s hard, yes, but I think it was God’s way of giving me a wake up call. I was told that if I had been with him that morning, I would have been killed. So, in a way, both of our lives were spared. I guess that means we both have awesome things that are going to happen in our lives. I hope one of those things is for us to be together. I’m so happy we found each other. I wouldn’t have my life any other way.

The bunny

*Big thanks to Henry Petty for serving as today’s guest writer!*

Photo by Phoopla Photography, 2010

Photo by Phoopla Photography, 2010

One of my earliest memories as a child is of eating a big meal and looking outside the single-pane windows in wonderment, wondering if the Easter Bunny had hopped his way into our back yard to leave some decorated boiled eggs for us.  I loved peeling away the plastic coating to get to the oh-so-awesomeness of the boiled eggs.  And if one was so lucky, he might find a plastic egg that parted to reveal silly putty, Cadbury eggs, or cotton tails (white cheddar popcorn balls).

It never occurred to me what Easter really meant.  And while you’re thinking to yourself, “Wonderful, it’s Easter..and I get to read a blog about Jesus.”  You’re probably right, but you have to read on to find out.

I gave up sweets for Lent this year so for the first time I am without the comfort of a quick sugar crush from my afternoon Twizzlers.  I never realized how much sweets were a part of my life.  While I have lost 11 pounds since this Lent fast, it wasn’t the reason I gave up sweets – I wanted to really feel emptiness.  I wanted to feel pain.  Call me crazy, but if it doesn’t hurt, then it’s not working.  Don’t go calling some mental health hotline; I’m not a cutter or anything like that.  I have a tough exterior, so it’s gotta hurt to count.

That emptiness that sweets left has been filled with a clearer mind for physical fitness.  I’ve joined a health club, I’ve eaten more micro nutrient-rich foods, and I’ve used my Xbox 360 Kinect more.  As a side effect to giving up sweets, I’ve focused on my own personal health.

Now when Easter comes and everybody is settled home, I will absolutely stuff my face with that Valentine’s Day candy that has been waiting in the cupboard screaming out my name.  And I’m going to drown myself in the best banana split this side of the Mississippi Railroad.  But I will never forget one thing:  That Easter Bunny really was up to a lot of mischief.  But I’m thankful for him instilling into me a love of sweets, so i could experience the void and bring myself closer to my body, God’s Temple, being in much better shape.

Maybe this was about Jesus after all.  Happy Easter everybody!

Day 3–The delicate dance

*I’ve known Jessica since college, and I feel privileged to have watched her evolve into who she is today. Our journeys aren’t identical, but I relate to much of her story. Check out her blog!*

Gratitude and love. Topics that seem to go hand in hand with lines blurred as to where one ends and another begins. Because, indeed, if you have ever been loved, well, the gratitude of being a recipient of such is a natural overflow.

When Bethany asked me write for this blog I immediately said yes. And then, moments later, regretted it. Don’t get me wrong. I have much to be grateful for. But currently, I’m in a season of life where grief overshadows most my gratefulness. And that’s the funny thing about love. It can often bring with it a two-edged sword bearing pain and piercing joy. How the two can exist in delicate harmony is something I’m learning day by day.

Our kids with Paige, spring 2010

Our kids with Paige, spring 2010

Paige was a 15 year old high school freshman when we met just 5 short years ago. Over the course of our children’s lives, she became more than just a teenager in our Sunday school class, she became family. In July, for reasons still unexplained, she died. The pain and grief that has been heaped upon my family by her death has nearly been crushing.

However, she is worth it.

The way she loved our family, the way she loved our children, the way she loved me has made every second of our grief worth it. And if I could go back in time five years and choose to love her all over again, I would.

This girl, this friend, who in my opinion left this world much too soon, left her mark on our family. My spunky, caring, eight year old daughter is forever changed because of the way Paige loved her. She wears funky hats, loves endlessly, serves others willingly and knows that it’s okay sometimes to act a little silly. All of those things because Paige did the same with her and now, she’s forever changed.

My sweet, tender, six year old son, who still cries weekly because he so desperately misses Paige, is forever changed. Just like Paige, he loves giraffes, making up silly songs, listening to music on his iPod and worshiping God no matter who is watching. He watched her love those things, and it has forever changed him.

My enthusiastic, laughter inducing six year old daughter dotes over babies, loves them fiercely, isn’t afraid to change a dirty diaper, act silly enough to illicit a laugh and is perfectly fine with carrying a younger sister around on her hip as long as she desires. All because she saw Paige do the same with her and with every child Paige came in contact with. Now my six year old daughter is forever changed.

I could keep going but the point is, Paige loved us well and we love her deeply. She changed us. All of us. Somehow, a 20 year old girl attached herself to our family and caused us to redefine why, how and who we love.

Paige with some of our kids, April 2012

Paige with some of our kids, April 2012

We love not because she is blood. We love not because she has the title of family. We love not because it is easy or convenient or warm and fuzzy. In fact, the last six months, since her death, those last adjectives have been the hardest to swallow.

Yet, we are so very grateful. Grateful for her. Grateful that God allowed us five short, love filled years with her. Grateful that we have memory upon memory of her time with us. Memories of vacations and sleepovers and road trips. We are grateful that she loved us richly, and we loved her wholly.

The pain of losing her has pierced us deeply while the joy of who she remains to be in our family abounds. I’ve held my children as they cried tears and wailed sobs because they miss their friend so very much. I’ve watched them dance and laugh and sing songs that she taught them and see the joy in their smiles and the pain in their eyes.

It’s a funny thing, this kind of gratitude. It’s hard to describe how grief, joy, love, gratitude and sorrow can combine into one smooth wave of emotion that pours itself into every facet of your life. The dance around, these pairs of love and sorrow, gratitude and grief. And if I’ve learned anything from all of this, it is that one can exist and even thrive in face of the other. A year ago, I would have never thought that possible. Now, I’m so thankful for the way the two dance within my heart. Because if you take out even one of the two then you take Paige and her love from our lives, and that is something I’m so grateful that we will never have to do.

 

Jessica also blogs over at http://themakingofmom.blogspot.com.

Manic migraines

Today is my seventh day in a row with a migraine.

I swear its onset is related to our return from our honeymoon to the beach. About four hours from home, the migraine reared its nasty head. Despite medical treatment and an array of other attempts to decrease its severity, it’s decided to stick around, teasing me with a few hours of relief occasionally.  I’ve suffered from migraines since college, but I’ve never had one last for seven days.

I know it’s hormone-related, and even though I feel terrible, I’m still grateful for the hormones because without them, I wouldn’t be pregnant with our precious child. Still, it’s difficult to maintain a positive outlook and pleasant disposition when my head is pounding and aching incessantly.

A few days ago, while reading my devotional book My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, I came across a paragraph about our moods.

“There are certain things in life that we need not pray about— moods, for instance. We will never get rid of moodiness by praying, but we will by kicking it out of our lives. Moods nearly always are rooted in some physical circumstance, not in our true inner self. It is a continual struggle not to listen to the moods which arise as a result of our physical condition, but we must never submit to them for a second. We have to pick ourselves up by the back of the neck and shake ourselves; then we will find that we can do what we believed we were unable to do. The problem that most of us are cursed with is simply that we won’t. The Christian life is one of spiritual courage and determination lived out in our flesh.”  -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, May 20

I needed that.

Lying around with a cool rag on my head in a dark, air-conditioned room doesn’t help to improve my migraines, and it certainly doesn’t improve my moods. It doesn’t calm me down; it frustrates me because I lie there thinking of the day wasting away and passing me by. Relaxing? Meditation? Yoga? No, these things do not rid me of my migraines, unfortunately. Do they improve my mood? Try meditating with a real migraine, and you will have the answer :).

So how can I make any changes to my mood if I can’t change my circumstances? If I can’t control or alter my physical condition, and my mood is directly related to my physical condition, how can I improve my mood?

For me, the answer only lies in my relationship with God. I can choose to talk to Him while I’m lying in the cold, dark room and use that time to pray for people who need it most. I can attempt to smile when I’m at work even though I don’t feel like it, sharing a little joy with people who might benefit. I can keep in mind that no one around me causes the pain I’m experiencing, and it’s not fair to take that pain out on them.

And last but not least, I believe it’s important for me to remember to be easy on myself. I don’t have to smile constantly. I don’t have to pretend to feel great when I don’t. And if the laundry sits in a pile for two more days because I’m still suffering from this migraine, life will continue without any major catastrophic consequence.

In the mean time, maybe I’ll start planning our next trip to the beach.

A big day

Today will be a very big day for me.

In a little while, I’m going to share one of the most painful, personal moments of my life with anyone who’s interested in hearing about it via my personal blog. I have the oddest feeling this morning–it feels like fear mixed with courage.

Despite the actual experience and pain involved in the aftermath, and in spite of my fear of the unknown consequences of opening myself up to the world, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share. I’m grateful for a friend who shared his story with me last week and prompted me to share my own. I’m grateful for the intricate, winding, uphill road that led me to today, fingers positioned on my keyboard, calm and ready to say what needs to be said.

I’m grateful God is the ultimate orchestrator of all of this, and I’m grateful that I’ve stepped down from my throne enough to recognize Him for Who He Is.

I feel like God’s whispering to me, “Now watch what I’m going to do with this. I told you, I’m making everything new.”

I’m watching.