Sunday, June 9, 2013

Africa: a Dream, a Sickness, & a Miracle

I was 16 years old, rowdy, rough edged, and seeking God with a ferocity and desperation comparable to a starving lion. Seriously. I was looking for purpose and wanted to know what the Lord required of me. I was sitting in the middle of a room full of other high school kids at Rainbow Christian Camp in Converse, Indiana. It was almost lunch time and I was hungry but we had a session scheduled with a missionary. In the past there had been some very stereotypical missionaries who came to the camp to speak to us. I'm talking jean skirt and hair bun missionaries here. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this particular missionary seemed fairly normal. More than that though, she seemed genuine, fun, and all around cool. Jill Shaw got on stage and gave us a history of her time as a missionary. She spoke about her many years in Zimbabwe where she learned the native language and loved people fiercely. She also spoke about how she fell in love with the people and how difficult it was to leave them in order to become a missionary in New Zealand. She had amazing stories, pictures, and my heart beat fast in a new way when she spoke about her journey with God overseas. As I sat in that crowd of teens, I felt like God's hand was helping my heart thump in this new exciting way. I wasn't 100% sure what it meant though. I was able to speak with Jill one on one several times throughout my week at camp. She taught me that "God does not call us to comfort or complacency, He calls us to the cross." My life would be forever changed. From that week of camp forward I had this ache inside of me to go to Africa. I came home and told my parents about my amazing camp experience and about my new desires. I don't think they have ever been surprised by my desire to go and do different things. I was their stringy-haired, tough nut, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better child who, when all her friends chose to go to regular camp in 7th grade, chose to go to the jungle-huts week all by herself. Enough of third person: I have always loved adventure and my parents have always supported that. So in the years following my experience with Jill Shaw, I sought out any opportunity I could in order to get myself to Africa. Not a single one ever came to fruition. That was until my sophomore year of college.

Spring Arbor University gives their students the amazing opportunity to experience another culture for 3 weeks before they are able to graduate. We could choose from a whole variety of countries. My sophomore year at SAU I was reading the school's announcements on my email when I saw there was still an opening on the Uganda cross cultural trip. My heart started beating fast and for a moment I was taken back to that room full of sweaty teenagers listening to Jill speak. I immediately jumped up and walked as quickly as I could over to the cross cultural office. They gave me all of the paperwork and told me to bring it back as soon as I could. I went back to my dorm room and furiously filled out the paper work then called my Dad. I told him about the opportunity and also mentioned the tiny detail that the trip cost almost $4,000 and that I was going to apply for a loan. I was determined and, after all of the failed attempts to get myself to my dream, I wasn't going to let anything stop me. I turned in my paperwork the next day, but was told I needed confirmation of loan approval before they could officially put me on the list for the trip. I was anxious and checking my mail constantly for the next week. Finally on a Monday I received the notification that I had been approved! So, before our 10 am chapel I hurried over to the office to hand in my approval. When I got there they told me that unfortunately someone had left the office just before me and took the last spot on the trip. Devastated, I walked to chapel nearly in tears. Adding to my heartache, Invisible Children volunteers were speaking in chapel that day. I endured an hour of IC reps practically begging for students to get involved in helping Ugandan children. By the end I could not help but let the tears stream down my face. I was so hurt and confused. Two of my friends noticed how upset I was and offered to talk with me. I proceeded to sob uncontrollably and question out loud why this was all happening. I had prayed for 4 years to go to the place my heart longed for. I hadn't placed this desire in my heart, I truly felt that the Lord did, so why was He denying me this opportunity? My heart was breaking. (It may seem silly to you to be so upset, but 4 years is a long time for an impatient, crazy passionate red-head.)

I spoke with the leader of the trip, Deb Varland about how disappointed I was to not be going on the trip. We had spoken several times before my loan was approved and we both shared a great passion for African culture and missions. She is a firey woman and decided to take matters into her own hands. She convinced the cross cultural office to expand the trip for me. She called all of the places we'd be going in Uganda and told them there would be one more person with the group. So one week after my denial and emotional melt down, Mama Deb gave me the news that my dreams were coming true. Cue insane excitement. The trip was roughly 6 months away. I spent majority of my time thinking about, talking about, and day dreaming about the trip I had been waiting for since my sophomore year of high school. I was so proud of myself for seeking out an opportunity and making it happen all by myself. My independence was in an ongoing love affair with pride. Little did I know that God would break up that relationship.

Mama Deb :)
About 2 months before my trip I started feeling really sick. I was playing soccer, running for student body president, taking care of one of my friends struggling with mental illness, and started dating the man who would turn out to be my husband. Needless to say, I spread myself way too thin. I had strep throat and mono. Over the next two months I could not seem to kick my illness and was put on medicine after medicine, landing in the hospital once, taking steroids for several weeks in order to open up my throat so I could breathe. As the trip got closer and closer, it was looking like I would not be well enough to travel. Cue several emotional melt downs. Again, I was caught questioning God and wondering how I could come so close to my dream only to have it slip away. I moved out of my dorm with the trip only 3 days away. My parents were not certain I should go on the trip, but definitely weren't telling me I wasn't allowed. The night I got home, I was an emotional mess. I was anxious and on the verge of tears the entire night. I started to pack not knowing if I would actually be going anywhere. My phone rang and a friend from high school who I hadn't spoken to in years was on the other end. He called to tell me about his new found faith and proceeded to speak the Word into my life for about an hour. This is a guy who I had prayed for since 5th grade so that he might come to know the Lord. I was in tears and in awe of my great God. I felt something so much bigger than my situation was happening.

Over the next two days I didn't feel too much different, but decided I was going to go on the trip anyways. I was simply hoping to not make it to Uganda only to become more ill. I boarded the plane to Amsterdam and slept most of the way (7 hours). On the next flight into Rwanda (8 hours), I prayed that I would sit next to someone who needed to hear about God. I ended up sitting next to Dave, a scientist going to Kampala to study the correlation between TB and Aids. He immediately asked me about my school and recognized it was a faith based institution. For the next few hours, from his prompting, we talked about God, Jesus, and what it all means for us. He asked me a lot of questions and I couldn't believe God had answered my prayer. By the end of the flight I was feeling more excited about the days to come because I felt God more closely than ever before.

So what about my illness? When I arrived in Uganda, I was no longer sick. Seriously. True story. No lies. I was healed. I was so much better that I didn't even notice. I was distracted by all of the new sights and sounds that I didn't even know God healed me. Is that even possible? It sure is. Want to know where I was when I did notice? I was playing soccer at the base of a mountain that sported two amazing waterfalls. I was running around with a bunch of Ugandan children when all the sudden it hit me. I was running. Before my trip I couldn't climb a single flight of stairs without getting short of breath because I was so sick. And here I was, in Uganda, running! I stopped moving, looked around at where I was and what I was doing and cried a few simple tears of joy and gratitude. I breathed out a slow "thank you, Jesus." My God is so faithful.

So what is the point of all of this? Why is this story important? Well, first, God performed a miracle in my life. Wow. Second, this story signifies who God is. He is the God who allows us to dream, live, plan, and hope. I was so busy trying to accomplish this desire God placed in my heart that I wasn't acknowledging that He placed it there and would do the work to get me to Uganda. I am convinced that my sweet Lord had to break me in order to get my stubborn heart to see that it is HE who made my trip happen, not my own will. God is the one who gave me the desires of my heart, but He had to wound me in order for me to cling to Him. Once again, even when it doesn't make sense and feels more like pain than goodness, God's purpose is sovereign. 

Where do you need to stop fighting the pain in your life & recognize that it is actually God's goodness? 

Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."

Proverbs 16:3 "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans."

Proverbs 16:9 "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."

Proverbs 19:21 "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."

Deep gladness.

::By His Grace & For His Glory::

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hip, Hip, Hooray!

 Read that title again. Now seriously that is my life. One hip surgery, two hip surgery, HOORAY IT'S OVER! Oh my, praise the LORD oh my soul!! In my last post I said I would tell you about the miracle which is my hip(s), and the day has come. Want to know how cool God is? Read on, my friends.

My freshman year of college I hurt my hip in an impact injury. It was November 2009. My trainer thought I had just pulled my hip flexor pretty badly, and it was time for the conference tournament- so I played on for 3 weeks. During the off season I rested and saw doctors at MSU who told me I could have a number of different inflammatory issues but nothing serious. I had an arthrogram MRI, which means an invasive MRI where they inject dye into my joint to make sure nothing is torn. That came out normal. So I was unsure what to do at that point. I went through therapy, got cortisone shots, and nothing seemed to be working.

My trainer, who was with me through the good, bad, & ugly.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year I was supposed to work at OnGoal, a traveling Christian soccer camp, with one of my best friends. However, because of my injury I was unable to fulfill the commitment I made to them. After the week of training, I had to go home to try to figure out what was wrong with my body. Upon moving to St Joe where my parents had moved the summer I left for college, my physical therapist told me about a doctor who did what is called prolotherapy. Prolotherapy is the chemical injuring of one's tendons and ligaments in order to signal to the body that it needs to heal. I had run out of other options (the MSU dr's wanted to operate on me to see what was wrong), I decided I would start this new-to-the-scene treatment. This involved me going every 4 weeks to get multiple shots into my tendons and ligaments in my hips (by this point, both hips were hurting). Sometimes I would get up to 14 shots in one session. This was some of the most painful treatment I have ever received. While it was challenging, and not ideal, because of this treatment I made it through my sophomore season of soccer, which ended with a National Title at the Christian National tournament.

Few moments bring feelings like this.
Unfortunately, the problem did not go away. Throughout the entire season I practice very little and only played in games. I hated doing this and felt like I was letting my team down. After sitting out the entire off-season during my sophomore year, my hips still were not getting any better. I came home to St Joe again for the summer to try to rest and get healthy. The end of summer was nearing and I was unable to work out without pain. Running and twisting were incredibly painful. I had no idea what to do. I had worked so hard for so long and I felt as though my dreams of being a contributing member of my team were over. It was 4 days before I was supposed to pre-season camp and I was freaking out. I had so much anxiety I made myself sick. I was worried and scared, and I was afraid to let everyone down. I prayed and cried, a lot.

When I was praying, out of no where I had the idea to go to a church I had never been to. Jake's friend Jen went to a Holy Spirit driven church that I heard her talk about once. And for whatever reason, I knew we had to go there. I called Jake to tell him, and the next day we showed up at the Friday night service in a church we had never been to. While we were there, it was obvious that the Holy Spirit was at work. I was uncomfortable and scared. The kind of scared you get when you know you are going to encounter God. Before service was up, Jen and her friend Amber took Jake and I into the hall so they could pray over my hip. Amber has the gift of healing. Now this was all very new to me, and I still don't know much about it, but I trusted her. She made me laugh and feel comfortable. She explained that not everyone experiences healing in the same way, some people are healed instantly and others have to walk out their healing in faith. I knew God would require the second of me. So after explaining this, they all put their hands on me and prayed. They prayed for healing and that I would have the best soccer season of my life. I cannot explain this feeling I had. I felt a smile rise in me from what felt like the deepest part of my heart. I couldn't help but smile. I started to laugh a little. I didn't feel better in my hip, but it was as if God had His hand right over my heart.

When we left that night, Jake and I weren't exactly sure how my healing was going to play out. However, when I went to pre-season camp I ran the fastest mile and a half time I had ever run in my life. Throughout the season I would play extremely well in games, then afterwards feel pain. It was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had. I would pray before the game and throughout "God, you have spoken Truth into my body, I trust you." And I would be able to perform. When I came off the field I could feel pain, but not on the field. It was as though God was showing me that He was carrying me. It's because He was.

The season went on and I finished really well along with the rest of my team. We made it to NAIA nationals and flew to Alabama to compete. At the end of the season, I received All Conference honors- which I had never received before. It was the best season I have ever had.While this was true, my pain was still there in the off season. I was so confused. I wondered how God could heal me, then "take it away". Had I lost my faith? Was I not being faithful enough? Why was this happening? I went to more doctors, feeling as if I was betraying God's faithfulness because I didn't trust Him to heal me fully.

While I was plagued with so many questions, I realize now that those were not from God. However, in the midst of the storm I was also faced with the question of whether or not I would play my senior year of soccer. The pain affected my ability to play and I was growing more weary. My trainer and I were unsure of whether or not my body would be permanently damaged because of playing through so many years of pain. I went into the summer uncertain if I would be able to play come fall. But the MSU doctors referred me to a doctor in Nashville, Tennessee.

Dr. Byrd was supposed to be the best of the best. I looked him up online knowing he was my last option, most likely for the rest of my life. (I had seen every dr under the sun). When I looked him up, a ton of scholarly articles appeared. He seemed like the Father of Hip Surgery to me. I had no idea how this was going to work out, seeing as every doctor I had seen in the past 3 years still didn't know what was wrong with me. However, I knew I had to give him a chance. I wouldn't be able to see him until after my soccer season, but I wasn't going to give up on the game.

I've loved this game for 18 years.
I played well throughout my senior season and our team had the best season in the history of SAU soccer. I enjoyed myself, even though I had to sit out of some practices. God carried me in the same way He did my junior year. It was pretty incredible. During our last game, which was a heart-wrenching loss, I felt my hip give way and I was in more pain than I had been in 2 years. I knew at that moment that my soccer career was over. We still had half of the game left, but with that pain came the realization that God had carried me as far as I needed to go, along with the rest of my team. With this reality in my mind, I played the rest of the game as hard as I could.
My family. They were a huge support for me through everything.
After the ending of my soccer career came the ending of my college career, along with that came my engagement. (My life is always pretty full haha) However, I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation. Well, that was until I saw Dr. Byrd. On January 20 my parents and I went down to Nashville to try to figure my hip out. On the 21st we found out that I had torn both of my hip labrums (waited 3 years to have an answer!), and that I would need surgery on both. So on January 22 I had my first hip surgery, then a mere 10 weeks later had my second hip surgery. While I dreaded my second surgery, it went phenomenally well. I had much less pain and much more range of motion from an early date. Now, just 4 weeks later, I am off my crutches and continuing on the path to wellness :)

Now this was a very long story and some of you may have missed the miracle in all of it. The miracle is that God DID heal me. Not only did He provide the perfect timing for two surgeries, as well as the financial provision, but the surgeries gave me opportunity to live at home with my family during the precious months before I get married. He completely carried me through my entire soccer/college career, and by doing so healed my heart in SO many ways.

He has proven He is trustworthy and faithful. He has shown me love and grace through His people throughout this entire process. He has solidified in concrete that HIS way is the BEST way, even when it doesn't make sense and feels more like pain than goodness.

God is so good, my friends. This grace covered ragamuffin can't stop talkin about it :) To Him be the glory.
All For Him

::By His Grace & For His Glory::

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Base of a Familiar Mountain

Have you ever had to go back to square one? Have you ever worked through something really painful, only to have the wound reopened? Have you ever rid yourself of a demon, who later snuck back in through an unlocked window? Do you know the frustration that comes with these situations? Have you experienced the exasperation of extending a journey when you are already tired?

I think we all have.

Since my last, very exciting, post I have had surgery on my right hip. I am currently 7 weeks post-op and feeling better, but still have much work to do. Some of you may have no idea why a healthy, 22 year old would need hip surgery. The answer is: I tore the labrum in my hip playing soccer my freshman year of college. I played for three years with torn cartilage being pinched by my misshapen hip bone. Some of you may wonder how in the world I did that, but the story of that miracle is for another day (one that is coming soon.) The crazy thing about this? The labrum in my left hip is torn as well and in 3 weeks I will be having a second operation.

This may not seem that bad since I am recovering well from the last surgery, but for those who know me well you know that I cannot stand being sedentary. I love being the "go-to-gal", being involved in anything and everything, and simply being a "doer". Needless to say, I am not looking forward to starting over the healing process just 10 weeks after my first surgery and only 5 weeks after I started walking again.

While this is going to be a challenge physically, it is not the demon I speak of.

This past summer, I had an internship in inner city Toledo. I wrote about it here. While I was there I experienced so many amazing things, but the most difficult was solitude. I was, for the most part, by myself in a city I had never been to prior to moving there. I encountered the challenge of relying solely on the Lord for my comfort and my companionship, which is the kind of life I asked for and when it was given to me I longed to run from it. I did a pretty decent job running away from the solitude until my internship supervisor (now one of my most dear friends) sent me on a mandatory solitude retreat for 3 days.

So for 3 whole days I was by myself in a hermitage in the woods. Talk about facing some fears! During those days Jesus did not appear in the flesh like my mind somewhat hoped for on several occasions; however, I experienced a peace and rest that surpasses any explanation I could offer here. So my life should be totally different than before, right? I should be experiencing His peace daily and not want to fill every minute of my time with service instead of filling it with his presence, right?

Wrong. Clue the unlocked window.

I thought I had dealt with my issues regarding silence, solitude, and resting. I am finding it is going to take more than 3 days for that to happen. I let my busy calender and selfish desires creep into my heart again. I let them rule me, instead of the peace of my King. So, here I am. I am living 3 hours away from my soon-to-be husband, 2 hours from my very best friends, and in a town where I know absolutely no one. This is what I like to call situational irony. I would be much wiser to call it God.

For the past few weeks I have been fighting the silence. I have been running from it and longing for what used to be and what is to come. I have not often cried, but when I have it has been out of an overflow from my spirit. Why? Because I have been avoiding the very reason why I am here. The Bible has a few stories about people who ran from God's purposes....I don't think I would enjoy the belly of a whale.

This all leads me to my point. I am currently standing at the base of an all-too-familiar mountain. I wish I had a name for this mountain, but all I know is that it involves fear and the most painfully clear mirror one could imagine. The wonderful and most difficult thing about this mountain, is there is absolutely no way I can climb it by myself. I need my sweet Jesus, the powerful Holy Spirit, and the abounding love of my Father. I think this is precisely the reason I have been brought to it.

So now is a time I am so thankful for the patience of God. I am blessed that, by His grace, He willingly walks me through lessons He has already taught me and up mountains He has already helped me climb.

What are the mountains in your life made up of? Do they look like mine? Are you afraid of the silence and solitude it takes to hear Him? Have you allowed God to show you the things you need to overcome?

I pray that both you and I may rejoice in the places we have been led and that we would allow God to re-teach us the things that are vital to life in Him.

::By His Grace & For His Glory::