I found that picture the other night and instantly started crying.
Because that moment is still so vivid in my memory.
You had just graduated high school. I found you in the crowd, held onto you tight and buried my face in your robe. Trying my best to hide from you that I was on the verge of tears. I knew that if I tried to talk, my shaky voice would prevail and you’d look at me and then it’d all be over. The waterworks would flow.
So instead, I just hugged you as tight as I could.
Later that day when Mom found that picture she captured and came to show me, after she left my room, I finally did let the flood gates completely open.
I cried hard.
Because I knew you going to college meant that I was losing my best friend.
A best friend is exactly what you are to me.
I remember my freshman and sophomore years of high school, when I struggled to make friends. Starting halfway through freshman year, I’d sit outside, alone at lunch every day.
Once you caught on, you left your table of friends every day and came and sat with me.
Those are some of my favorite memories. We’d trade parts of our lunches and have some of the best laughs.
I remember one really bad day of high school. Certain things had happened with friendships that were slowly slipping away from me, and people were mean.
At my locker before I left school, I felt the tears already burning in my eyes. I told myself to hold off until I got in your car.
But when I walked out into the parking lot and made eye contact with you, your concerned look told me that you already knew just by looking at me that something was up.
I saw your look and couldn’t hold it in. Right there in the middle of the sidewalk, I completely lost it.
Ugly crying, barely breathing, beat red face.
You threw your arm around me and shielded me while we made our way to your car.
One of your best friends saw and jumped in, shielding my other side.
I cried and you two did your best to hide me so no one else would see.
On that day, my world was completely crashing in. And like so many times before, you stopped it from completely crushing me.
The day we dropped you off at college, I sobbed the entire way home.
I was excited for you but felt like FSC was stealing a piece of me.
I remember the first day of junior year when our lunch table was completely empty.
I sat there and wondered what I was going to do for the next two years without you.
High school sucked for me. And I 100% mean it when I say that you were one of the main reasons I was able to make it through.
So when I found that picture the other night, the tears were inevitable.
Because buddy, we’ve come full circle.
Later this year, you’ll be graduating college.
Although we don’t go to the same college so it’s not like I’m used to having you by my side 24/7 anymore, I know things are still going to change.
The thing is, we’re both growing up.
Growing up is a lot harder than I thought it’d be.
Before we know it, we’ll probably both be living in different places again, maybe even different states.
We’ll have our own lives and jobs, trying to juggle two crazy worlds.
I’ll probably be buying my 3rd dog while you’re having your third kid (joking… kinda).
I don’t know what our futures hold. But I do know a few things:
I know that I will always have your back and you’ll always have mine. No matter what.
I know that watching you find you passions and live your dreams is one of my most favorite things to watch.
I know that you can do insane things with a camera and that’s going to take you far.
I know that no matter where we both end up, our lives will never be too busy for long FaceTime calls and annoying texts.
I know that I will always dream that one day our career paths will cross and maybe, we get to do a job together.
I know that you fill the role of big brother better than anyone else I’ve seen do it.
I know that life with you as my sidekick is a blast.
I know that I miss living across the hall from you. But no distance will ever mess with us.
I know that I have to go clean my keyboard because now there’s tears all over it.
I can’t believe this is your last year in college.
I’m so excited to see what comes your way in this next year.
You’ll always be the best thing that I've got.
Growing up is hard, but I’m glad I get to do it with you.
Thanks for protecting me, making me laugh and being the best sidekick out there.
Here’s to our worlds changing at rapid paces but us staying the same epic duo that we are.
I love you, ya goof.
Man, oh man, I’ve been trying to get back to this for days. But let me tell y'all, the first week of the Fall semester is C R A Z Y.
I have three blog posts on deck that I haven’t been able to finish while I try to figure out how to make writing one of my main priorities (because it’s kinda what I want to do with my life) and fit in school and everything else, but I’ll figure it out. Eventually.
Being back at UF has been weird but good. I don’t think it has fully set in that I’m back. But that might partially be owed to how I left home.
I left, totally not ready.
I was nervous about recovery, not mentally prepared to do schoolwork again and unexpectedly nervous about jumping back into the community I found in the middle of last Spring.
But sitting at the end of the first week and reflecting on it, my dad’s words are echoing in my head and I’m sighing because he’s reading this and I have to tell him that he was right.
I was nervous about nothing.
Before I left home this summer, I let my nerves build on a flawed idea, namely that this Fall was going to be exactly how last Fall was: awful.
Just through the first week, I realize that I was so off.
Let me back track a little so you know where I’m coming from.
Fall of my freshman year went a little something like this: tears every day for no joke, probably six weeks, homesickness that felt impossible to shake, a feeling of hopelessness, wondering if I’d ever find a community and make the friends that I was dreaming about and a lot of doubt wondering if I just might have made the biggest mistake of my life coming to UF.
By the beginning of Spring, I had told my parents that I wanted to transfer more times than I could count. I don’t think I’ve told anyone this part before, but for the first part of Spring semester, on any given day, guaranteed, you could find at least one transfer application to some other school open on my desktop. Staring me in the face.
But for some odd reason, I never filled one out. I looked and looked, stared at campus picture after campus picture, but never got farther than Google Images.
I know now that that was God telling me to stick around. The community I needed was coming.
The group of friends that kept my phone buzzing and wrote me letters in the hospital this summer, was coming.
The group of girls that challenge me in my faith and kept me rooted right before I stepped into the surgery that had knocked me down once before, was coming.
The community that is now starting to feel like family, was just around the corner.
So, this blog post is for two groups of people. First to the freshman that may find themselves feeling like I did at the end of my first Fall.
Hi, don’t pack your bags yet. Maybe you are being called somewhere else.
But don’t jump the gun.
Before you even write you name on that transfer application, really think about it.
In case you haven’t heard, nine out of ten people don't have great first semesters. You’re not alone in this. I promise you, things just take time. So, before you make a life altering decision like leaving where you’re at, really think and pray about it.
If you can’t get past the Google Images of that other pretty campus, God might be telling you to stick around.
And second, this blog post is a thank you to the people who were the reason I stuck around (shout out to my UF Navs fam if you haven’t figured out that I’m talking about you yet.)
Thank you for being extremely welcoming to the kid who showed up halfway through the year.
Thank you for not thinking twice about my disability. You have no clue how much it actually means to me.
To those of you who give me rides everywhere, and did so even when you barely knew me, you’re my favorite people.
You guys were a massive answer to prayer.
I’m glad I stuck around.
Here’s to a year without tears for six weeks straight and no transfer applications lingering in my desktop.
I remember when that elevator in the middle of Nemours became more than just some elevator for the Ellis Clan.
Walking into Nemours for the first time in 2014, I was a mess. Physically, emotionally and mentally.
My trust in orthopedics wasn’t all there and doubt was clouding my head. I had very little hope that my situation could turn around.
But then we got off that elevator.
“Jordan, look at that.”
Following my mom’s smile and seeing my dad pointing at something behind me, I turned around and saw that.
A picture of a little boy in a metal walker like the one I grew up in, smiling ear to ear. And words that forever changed our world:
“A promise to do whatever it takes.”
The thing is, that is something I’ve had to live by my whole life. Growing up, I became a master at quick problem solving in everyday life. I often wouldn’t let my physical limitations slow me down and I’d do whatever it took to do whatever I wanted to do in life.
I can’t play sports. But I will do whatever it takes to get near a field. So, for three years in high school I rode bus after bus, watched soccer game after soccer game and took stat after stat. Loving every minute on that bench.
I can’t run. But I remember limping (and falling a lot) for a mile around the gym in elementary school just so I could do the Presidental Physical Fitness Test like everyone else.
In so many other ways, I always did whatever it took to keep up. I hate feeling like the “disabled kid”, so I did and still do, all I can to keep up so I feel less like the odd one out.
So, when we stepped foot in a hospital that promised not to give up no matter what, I think we all felt instant comfort. Because that is how we have tried to live our lives as a family - never giving up. No matter what.
Lots of people told me UF wouldn’t work for me. It isn’t easy being on a campus that big, I’ll give you that. But I made it work for a year already, and I plan to make it work for three more years.
I do whatever it takes to be a Gator. Even if that means waking up extra early just so I can figure out the accessible routes on campus.
But, as I prepare to move back to Gainesville on Saturday right in the middle of recovery, I’m realizing that it’s going to take a little more to be a Gator this year.
Right now, I crutch at the speed of a turtle, cringe when I see even two steps, definitely feel the pain of a new rod and a few screws being in my leg and overall, I’m not as fast as I’m used to being.
That freaks me out a little bit.
Okay, it freaks me out a lot.
I woke up this morning and wondered if I have what it takes to make it work this year.
How will I keep up with my PT? What if the pain I’m still in slows me down even more? How will I keep up with my friends? I don’t want to slow people down.
Do I just smile and try to hide that I’m kinda sorta really freaking out about the fact that my leg hurts, I extra suck at walking right now and I have so much road to go on this whole recovery thing?
I mean, I can’t even take one step without my crutches right now. How will I comfortably and easily get around my dorm?
I’m living alone in a single room. What if something happens and nobody is around?
I hate asking for help. And I need more help than normal right now. Will I actually speak up when I need someone’s help?
How am I going to do this?
As my mind started reeling, I thought back to a verse I held tight to in middle school when that surgery went wrong, and my world came crashing in:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
I remember sitting in middle school bible class and learning how the Lord hems us in. He protects us on all sides, going before us and with us, never leaving.
I remember hearing that and feeling okay.
And when I remembered that and went back and read that verse again, I felt okay.
Fact is, this isn’t going to be easy. It’s probably going to be really hard. But I’m going to be okay.
I’m so thankful for the support system I have at UF and know I have plenty of people to fall back on in this time of recovery.
So to my UF fam, if anyone needs a gym buddy, let me know.
To all my friends who are going into PT, I’m so down to be your guinea pig.
If anyone sees me on campus and notices that I’ve been scooting most of the day, yell at me and tell me to walk.
And if anyone wants to be my walking buddy as I circle campus, just trying to learn how you guys do this whole walking thing, feel free to join me as I crutch around at the speed of a turtle.
This isn’t going to be easy, I know that.
But I’m ready to do whatever it takes.
See you on Saturday, Gville.
Man, this blog has already been such an adventure. The opportunities and responses I've received have humbled me and blown me away. I started it in a hospital room, expecting it to just last the month I was in Delaware. But I soon realized that this is the platform I've been dreaming about for my words and stories.
As I've taken more steps into this and shared mine and others' journeys, I've gotten some questions about how to "subscribe" to From 3West. I'm still figuring out the best way to set up an email list, but there's lots of other ways to keep up with From 3West in the meantime:
Excited to share more stories with y'all.
Life with medical challenges can be a rollercoaster.
But throughout my own life and as I’ve watched others’ journeys as well, I’ve often seen one similar constant.
Behind each one of us who live with these challenges, more often than not, there’s one person who’s by our side through every doctors’ appointment, therapy session, surgery and everything else this life throws at us.
This is especially true in my case.
If there’s doctor I’ve shook hands with, she has too. Every therapy clinic I’ve spent hours in, Mom has spent just as much time in the waiting room. If I’ve been stuck in a hospital bed for weeks, she’s been on the cot right next to me. Every single night.
Growing up, when I would sit on a doctor’s table and hear the word “surgery” and panic, Mom was the first one I looked to before I let the waterworks flow. And when I couldn’t get ahold of myself, we would sit in the parking lot and sometimes cry together.
MRIs are still one of my least favorite things on this planet. Every single one I’ve went in, she’s always been right there.
And yes, when I was really little, she was inside the MRI tube with me, holding me.
In high school, when I would sit through meeting after meeting trying to figure out the logistics of getting around campus and the accommodations I needed, Mom sat in even more meeting without me, fighting for what I needed.
And when my parents dropped me off at college, she set up my dorm perfectly.
When I got a flat tire on my mobility scooter, she was the one to drive 2 hours to Gainesville, in the middle of the day to bring me my old one.
When I was struggling my first semester, questioning if I could make UF work or not, she was the one to drive to Gainesville, buy me lunch and assure me that I could do it.
If I find myself in a situation at UF that I need help problem solving, she’s my first phone call.
She’s the one who tucked an extra crutch in the back of my dorm closet just in case one broke.
This summer is probably the truest testament of all we’ve been through together.
In a hospital for a month, there’s no other roommate I’d rather have.
I miss our hospital movie nights where we would huddle around my laptop together.
Every morning in the hospital, she’d wake me up with a bagel and coffee. And then make sure I knew when my therapy sessions were for that day.
Every day, she made sure I was laughing.
And trust me, we had lots of laughs. First over her trying to learn how to use Snapchat and then driving me crazy with it. I can’t forget the time she accidentally pulled my remote/call button out of the wall and set off an alarm that sent two nurses bolting in, right after she had told them probably ten times: “We’re very low maintenance.”
Oh, and I can’t forget the time she “ejected” me from my wheelchair on accident and sent my coffee into the air, giving the entire hallway a good laugh.
Or the time we found that Fantastic Gymnastics game and spent literally hours trying to play it.
My stomach hurt most days from laughing with Mom in that hospital.
Mom, simply put, you are my superhero.
Thanks for walking every step of this with me and sometimes, carrying me through it.
I wouldn’t be as far as I am without you.
I know we have our moments but you truly are my best friend.
God sure knew what he was doing when he made you my mom.
I’m a word nerd if you haven’t noticed.
As I’ve gone through this past year at UF and a whirlwind of a summer, it has only been confirmed for me that I want to somehow make storytelling my career.
Whether that’s through Journalism, Public Relations or some branch of Telecommunications, I don’t know at this point.
All I know is that I like to write and telling stories is my passion.
When I started this blog, I didn’t know what was going to come from it. I just knew that I needed an outlet to keep myself sane as I sat in a hospital for a month.
But as I poured more into it, I realized that for the first time in a while, I was actually enjoying what I was writing.
I was honored when Ryan and Courtney trusted me with their stories. And again, realized the importance of sharing our stories.
After we put their stories out there and I saw the responses, I realized that From 3West had already taken off in ways I never thought it would.
And then my dad hit me with a line that sealed the deal that I am going to stick with From 3West: “Some kid is going to read these stories and you’re going to help someone without even knowing it.”
I realized that this blog gave me the outlet to bring my love for words and storytelling to life.
I realized that through this blog, I’m doing what I love: writing lots of words and sharing cool stories.
So, I’m sticking with it.
My goal is not for people to see my journey and see what I’ve done, because I’ve done nothing.
My goal is for people to see what the Lord has done. I was overjoyed to step alongside Courtney and Ryan and share their stories. My goal is to do more of that.
It is the biggest honor to me when someone agrees to talk with me and then further, trusts me to write and put their story out there.
So, as I take these next steps to expand my blog, I hope I can step alongside more people and help share their stories.
I hope that in my words, people can find encouragement and see what the Lord has done and can do.
I can promise more stories about cool people that I know, some posts that are just about what’s on my mind and probably some sports articles because my sports storytelling dreams are still very much alive.
Really though, my ultimate dream has always been that my words would just help someone even if it’s in the smallest way.
I’m excited to finally have a solid place for my word nerdiness.
From 3West is hopefully only the beginning as I strive to become a professional storyteller.
One blog. Two crutches. Lots of stories.
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