I didn’t know Alexander. But now, I’ll never forget him.
What blows me away constantly about God, is his ability to place people in each other’s paths, for the perfect reason, at the perfect time.
What blows me away constantly about God, is how his plan is worked out so far in advanced and is constantly moving.
The Dominican Republic has had part of my heart since I first came here in 2012. The ways Mission Emanuel (ME) builds meaningful, lasting relationships and loves so deeply, is such a clear depiction of the Gospel to me. And from that first trip, I knew this place, these people and this mission were forever going to be a part of my life.
When I decided I wanted to go on Summer Staff this summer with ME, it all started happening so fast. I filled out my application and found out a few weeks later that I was accepted. And as I started the fundraising process, I was completely shocked and humbled by how fast I not only reached, but surpassed the fully funded mark.
With the way it was all so quickly falling into place, I couldn’t help but think that God might have something super special planned for my summer in the DR.
Now after the first week, I can tell you that that is so true.
I didn’t know Alexander. But now, I’ll never forget him.
It really all started back in January when my dad went on a trip. He called me and told me that they were working on a house for a lady named Mari, who had a son with Cerebral Palsy (CP). He said that her son had passed away, but this house was such a picture of promises being fulfilled. He said he told her about me, and he thought it was so special that he was there to work on the house.
Last week, months after Dad’s trip, I passed buckets full of concrete and painted walls on that same house.
And at the end of the week, I met Mari. I met her as I handed her the keys to her new house. She held me as tight as she could, and we both wept.
Mari looked at me and the people around us, and thanked us over and over.
She called me family and told me that when she saw me, she looked at my legs, and her heart leapt. Because of her son, Alexander, who God made like me, we were connected.
Though I didn’t understand her Spanish, others translated for me. As she held my face, she told me: “God makes people like you and my son. You are a child of God, and you are beautiful.”
Words didn’t come. I just nodded and smiled and hugged her, as more tears streamed down my face.
Questions are something I believe none of us can avoid, because we are human. And we don’t know that plan that God has in advanced and always moving.
My entire life, I’ve fought questions. I wonder why a lot. Why I have to live in pain, why I can’t walk. Why I know hospitals better than the average kid. Why as a kid, I went to more PT sessions than play dates.
I know God made me this way. But when I think about it, it’s easy to see that in a negative light. It’s easy to see the way I am as a bad thing. It’s easy to let pain and negativity overflow and fail to seen any purpose in it.
I sometimes also struggle on the opposite side of the spectrum. Because I realize how the Lord has immensely blessed me with resources, I wonder why I’ve had the chance to constantly improve my situation, and some others don’t have that chance.
Simply put, my medical challenges can make it really easy for me to be mad and confused for a lot of reasons.
As I stood in the middle of this house and held a weeping mother in my arms, I cannot explain to you fully the feeling I had. But in that moment, I saw a small piece of God’s plan coming to fruition.
Our lives are forever woven together. And it’s because of years of planning on our God’s part.
From the doctors who walked alongside me to get me to a place where I can physically be able to be in the DR, to Mission Emanuel being there to stand by and carry Mari through the darkest times, to my dad being in that first group to work on her house, God was in every second leading up to our emotional hug.
I’m not claiming to now magically and fully understand God’s plan. But I fully believe our God is an intentional God. And this moment painted a picture of that part of his character.
I fully believe that God constantly gives us glimpses of his perfect plan and that those are some of the most beautiful moments.
I will never forget Mari’s words to me. As she wiped my tears, and I heard her call me a child of God and beautiful, I can genuinely say I’ve never believed those words more fully than when she told me those things.
In that moment, I felt like Heaven was meeting Earth. People from Illinois to Florida to the Dominican, stood together in support of one family. Who is all their own family.
Like it says in Nehemiah, the joy of the Lord is Mari’s strength. It’s my strength. And it’s the strength of every hand that has worked with Mission Emanuel.
Today, I am thankful for an intentional God. I’m thankful that family means more than just blood. I’m thankful for a God who loves, cares and plans. And I’m thankful that joy found in him isn’t dependent on circumstances, but everlasting.
I didn’t know Mari’s son, Alexander. But now, I’ll never forget him.
I see it when I look at you.
But your walls are built up high.
Your heart is on lockdown before anything new or anyone new can get close.
Not until you’ve had months to figure it or them out.
But even then, you usually still keep part of your heart in a tight grip. Just in case something goes wrong. You want to be able to get away with something untouched.
There’s a few of people close to you, who somehow have gotten behind those walls completely.
They know things you don’t have to tell them. They even know some things that you’ve never technically told them, or anyone.
They figure out what’s going on in your head with you, and sometimes before you.
But they even wonder sometimes.
Your life has been full of more joy than anything else. What exactly caused you to build walls so high?
I see it when I look at you.
You’re tough. Sometimes too tough.
Because you’re that kid who maybe had to grow up too fast.
Not that you wanted to. It was because of things you couldn’t and still can’t control.
But even in the midst of those things, the good and the hard stuff, you were just that.
No matter what you were facing, you were still a kid.
You just had to grow up fast. So, your mind was sometimes ahead of your heart.
Meaning that you knew what was happening, and you knew what you needed to do to get through.
But that didn’t mean you escaped all the hurt.
And now that you’re older, you see how some things you said were “no big deal” affected you more than you thought they would.
Those things are what the walls everyone is saying you’ve “built up so high” are built out of.
I see it when I look at you.
That one best friend who’s not a best friend anymore.
That one person who’s actually gone. You’ve stopped telling yourself that time heals. Because it still hurts in the deepest places to miss them, even after a decade.
That one appointment that didn’t go right.
That one hallway that has little to no good memories.
That one thing that one person said to you years ago, that cut too deep.
That one relationship that’s years old, and also years gone. You wish you could forget it. Because when your best friends ask you now what it was exactly, you can’t give them an answer. You don’t even know the answer. All you know is that it hurt.
That one time you didn’t listen to your gut. And now, down the road, everything in you wishes you did in that one moment.
Those empty promises he never fulfilled.
Those things she said that were completely out of left field.
I see it when I look at you.
And your walls are built up high.
But that doesn’t make your smile any less genuine.
Like those people close to you know and remind you daily, this life has so much joy.
Like everyone else, you’ve got a story.
You’re smiling because you’ve let all these things be part of your story.
You’ve learned from them. They’ve made you stronger. And you know you’re not alone. Everyone’s got something.
You’ve allowed yourself to cry when you need to and laugh too. Thankfully, you’ve probably laughed more.
You’ve allowed yourself to see God’s purpose in every good and hard thing you’ve faced.
So, you’re smiling.
Your walls are built up high, because your imperfect and human. And that’s okay.
I know, because I am you. Mine are too.
But if there’s one thing I know to be true, it’s that honesty is one of the most powerful things someone can have and experience.
Writing is how I get there. To the honest places.
May these things I write be honest.
May they help you get to honest places as much as they hopefully help me.
Welcome to From 3West’s second blog series: 21 Things I’ve Learned at 21. In September of last year, that was the title of a blog post, in which I listed out 21 things I’ve learned in my 21 years. My goal is always for my writing to be authentic and to write about where I am at. So, these posts will not be in order of my initial list.
Here's post #3 in the series, and #12 on the original list.
Dreams and plans change. And that’s okay. It’s a good thing, actually.
“I don’t do that anymore,” I chuckled at a friend who had just ask when my next sports article was dropping and who I was currently writing for.
On my way home later that day after that conversation, I passed a bench in the middle of campus. I smiled, because during my freshman year, I would sit there coming up with story pitch after story pitch and tearing through every ESPN Mag or Sports Illustrated I could get my hands on.
My freshman year, I was locked in and set on pursuing sports journalism. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, and I wasn’t open to anyone (including, maybe especially God) telling me that sports journalism might not be it.
I dove in my freshman year and got tons of experience. Which I’m so grateful for. But I remember getting deeper in and realizing I didn’t love the culture of journalism. And that the sports world still has part of my heart, but it’s a different beast when you’re working in it.
I remember walking out of one of my journalism classes one day, running to the bathroom and crying in a stall. Because I felt it like this might not be it, but I didn’t know what else I would do.
I knew and still know that I want to write for a living. But at that point, sports journalism was the only capacity I allowed myself to dream about writing in, maybe subconsciously blocking out every other option because I wanted this so badly. Even if part of me felt off and like this might not be it.
I walked into college saying: “I will not be the kid who changes her major.”
Guess what? A year in, I was that kid.
And I was scared. I felt my dreams changing, and I didn’t have a concrete answer to what my “dream job” was. Frankly, I still don’t think I do.
I’ll tell people that I want to write and tell stories, that’s all I know for sure. I’ll tell people that sports media isn’t totally out of my options, I could maybe see myself working in healthcare communications or even ministry.
Or I’ll just be a writer, trying to piece together books or something, broke and living in my parents’ backyard, in a tiny house. (Kidding, Dad.)
But the not having a concrete answer to “what’s your dream job?” anymore, really scared me at first.
Does it still scare me sometimes? Sure. Absolutely. Especially when I have moments where I realize how fast college is going by.
This semester, we’ve been studying 2 Timothy in bible study. One theme I’ve seen in Paul’s letter to Timothy is him constantly reassuring Timothy that God will prepare him for “every good work.”
As I’ve wrestled with not knowing what I want to do exactly and what my life is going to look like, I’ve found comfort in two things:
God will prepare and is preparing me for whatever he has planned, and I can rest in following his will for my life. Meaning it’s okay that I don’t have everything planned out, in fact, it’s impossible for me to plan everything for my life out.
Which, now that I’ve wrestled with it, is comforting. But that has definitely been a hard one to actually rest in. Because I am 100% a planner.
It’s been so convicting as God’s taught me about resting in his will and plan. Because I’ve seen how my career isn’t the only thing I’ve tried to hold onto, white knuckled and not give to him.
I’ve done it with my medical situation, trying to tell God what he “needed” to do with every surgery.
I do it with my future relationally and as a whole, probably mostly giving into fear and insecurities. I tell everyone that I am destined and pumped to be the single, crazy dog lady. But when one of my friends stopped me mid-joke the other day and hit me with the “what if that’s not it?” I realized how much I’ve let fear overshadow that part of my life, and I’ve attempted to white knuckle that from God too.
I know I’ve mentioned him in a few blog posts, but Bob Goff is one of my heroes. As I was sitting in my parked car waiting for my PT office to open for my early appointment Friday morning, thinking about what I’ve been learning about my dreams and plans changing and finding rest in God surrounding that, Bob tweeted this:
“God is never as nervous about our future, or as concerned about our past, as we are.”
Dang. I cannot tell you how hard that hit home when I looked down at my phone and saw that notification, just as I was reflecting on how I it has been so freeing to slowly learn how to loosen my grip on my future and what I think I want.
Dreams and plans change. And that’s okay. It’s a good thing, actually.
Because it might just mean that you’re learning to listen to and rest in a dependency on God.
Welcome to From 3West’s second blog series: 21 Things I’ve Learned at 21. In September of last year, that was the title of a blog post, in which I listed out 21 things I’ve learned in my 21 years. My goal is always for my writing to be authentic and to write about where I am at.
Here's post #2 in the series, and #6 on the original list.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose... forever.
When I was a sophomore in high school, a simple slogan entered my life and silently began to drive what I did and how I approached life.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the show. It is my absolute favorite.
When I found NBC’s Friday Night Lights, I was instantly hooked.
I have a concerning amount of Dillion Panthers shirts in my closet, and someone saying the words: “I’ll watch FNL with you,” is 100% a sure way to my heart, and a cure to any bad day I’m having.
I know that I love the show so much partly because I am my father’s daughter, and a sports fanatic. And I grew up on football.
But I know another reason why the show has my heart.
It’s because the motto of the team hits home for me. Time and time again, Coach Taylor will stand in the huddle of players and say: “Clear eyes. Full hearts.”
And all in perfect unison, his team returns with: “Can’t lose.”
If you ask me, the simple slogan is powerful and about so much more than just winning a football game.
It’s become something I live by. And something that keeps me grounded when the challenges of living with a disability and just life in general try to creep up on me.
Let me break it down for you.
Clear eyes: Possibly the hardest part of the motto for me. As I’ve fought with CP my whole life, I’ve seen how easy it can be to let the hard stuff and the untrue stuff fog my vision.
Even with friends and a community in Gainesville who have become a family to me and who love me so incredibly well, one of the easiest traps for me to fall into is believing the lie that I’m a burden to people. Time and time again, even obviously seeing the way these people love me so well, my vision becomes foggy and I worry about burdening them with my challenges.
It’s so easy to doubt any plan God has for me when I see friends getting married or landing their dream job. It’s easy for my vision to lose sight of trusting His plan and to wonder how much my CP is going to affect my relationships and my career.
The farther I move into life, the more crucial I find having “clear eyes” is.
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Clear eyes to me, means that verse. It means setting my eyes on the things above. It means not letting things I can’t control trip me up.
It means trusting God.
Full hearts: When I think of having a full heart, I instantly think of all the people I love.
I think of my family. I think of the incredible friends I’ve made in Gainesville and how I’ve truly never had friends like them before.
A full heart is abiding in a God who loves me regardless of all my flaws and downfalls.
The things that give me a truly full heart, are eternal. Investing in God and people is eternal.
It’s joy that’s not affected by pain or circumstances.
It’s a hug from my dad that still feels the same way it did when I was five. It’s the way my mom and I have the best time together, always. It’s the way my brother makes me laugh until I cry.
It’s the way some of the most meaningful times I’ve had have been sitting on a dorm floor, eating cookies, talking to these people I’ve found in college, whom I don’t deserve.
A full heart to me, means having relationships with an eternal God and people who show and point me to him every single day.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Can’t lose: the formula seems simple. If I have those things, I literally can’t lose. No matter what this world throws at me, I just can’t lose.
If I keep my eyes and vision clear, fighting the lies that are way too easy to believe and depending on my God that is bigger than all of the lies combined, my life and my joy won’t be affected by my circumstances.
If I realize that things of this world won’t fill me up, only God and time with people who point me to Him will, my heart will never not be full.
If I live according to those ideas, I can’t lose.
If I live by those ideas, any challenges I face, like Cerebral Palsy, don’t take center stage in my life. They’re just things that I have to figure out a way around.
So, yes. A slogan from a TV show has driven a lot of how I live my life.
A simple slogan from a TV show is the reason and the way I’m able to smile through pain.
A simple slogan from a TV show is something that keeps me grounded.
A simple slogan, and a simple formula that in my human condition, is harder to follow than it should be.
But I’m thankful for the reminder and direction it’s served me through the years.
Thankful for a merciful God and incredible people.
So, with that, say it with me friends.
Welcome to From 3West’s second blog series: 21 Things I’ve Learned at 21. In September of last year, that was the title of a blog post, in which I listed out 21 things I’ve learned in my 21 years. My goal is always for my writing to be authentic and to write about where I am at. So, these posts will not be in order of my list. In fact, I am jumping in at #21 on the original list.
Things will happen in God’s timing, not mine. And I’m thankful for that.
I immediately gave her a look.
“But, rowing on a rowing machine or even riding a bike, that has to do more than just that.” I said to my PT, who just told me that one of the best things I can do right now is to just walk.
My physical situation with Cerebral Palsy (CP) is ever-changing. And right now, I’m faced with the question yet again: do I want to have more surgery down the road?
My tibia is still crooked on my left side. It’s causing my foot to drift in, which as you can probably guess, causes some tripping, especially when I’m tired. My doctor decided not to fix it last surgery because we hoped that with a fixed, straight femur, muscle memory would take care of my drifting tibia.
To some extent, it has. But not enough. So, in this last year of the two-year recovery, my primary focus has been training that foot to not drift inward.
I can wholeheartedly and truthfully say that I have gone hard in this most recent surgery recovery. I haven’t always been able to say that honestly in the past. But in the case of number 10, I have been determined, giving it everything I’ve got.
The rowing machine has become my constant companion, and I can go a long time on a stationary bike. The gym is honestly my getaway spot every week.
But as I talked to one of my PTs recently, I expressed how I’ve been thinking a lot about how we might have to go back in and fix my tibia.
She looked at me and said: “Keep working as hard as you're working. But I think one of the best things you can do right now on top of all you’re doing, is to just walk more. Focus on form, and train it.”
I, looking for the fast-paced and more fun solutions like my rower, didn’t like that answer.
When I’m just walking, slow and focused, I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. When I’m literally thinking about what muscle to fire next, trying to learn how to walk, I get frustrated.
But when I’m going fast on a rower or a bike, it’s not slow, and I feel like I’m getting somewhere.
So, when she told me I needed to do the thing that my brain dubbed as the “slow option,” I didn’t like that.
I didn’t like the idea of just practicing walking. Because I can’t control it as much as I can control how fast I row or ride. I mean, I could walk faster. But if my brain isn’t firing the right muscles, then the training won’t do its work... I knew that this meant going slow.
Going slow isn’t my idea of timing when it comes to improving my physical life.
I know I’ll never be perfect. But I’m determined to beat as much of CP as I can. And I’ve never wanted that to happen slowly. I want it now.
Living in this college bubble, I’ve noticed how big of a tendency this is for kids my age, or maybe everyone: we want things on our timing. And the timeframe we often have in mind is now and instant.
We’re in a constant state of thinking and worrying about the future and trying to figure out how we can control most of it.
As I talked to more and more friends about life and the future, it was interesting to see the different things that we all choose to worry about most. It’s fascinating to see how some things are easy for one person to completely trust God’s timing with but hard for someone else to give it to him.
I’m worried about my career and what I’m doing, while one of my friends rarely lets her mind waiver from: “God will put me exactly where he wants me.”
And then there’s possibly one of the biggest things people tend to worry about during college, relationships. For a lot of years, I told myself that a relationship and marriage wasn’t in the cards for this kid on crutches. Though I see my flawed thought process around this now, it is a lot easier for me than for some of my friends to say, “If God wants something to happen, it’ll happen,” when it comes to relationships.
My point is, everyone worries, and everyone worries about different things. As humans, it’s natural for us to want things on our timing. It’s natural to want control.
But as I just walked the track at the gym yesterday, thinking about which post to start this series with, it hit me that God invites us to “just walk” into what he has every day.
The fact is, he’s got everything already mapped out. And he invites us to just walk into his plan, because he’s already got a greater one than any of us could even wrap our heads around.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
It sounds so simple. And theoretically, it should be. But I’ve learned that trust and giving up control, even if we don’t truly have as much as we think, is tough. Even though the reality, again and again, is that God’s timing is always better and never-failing.
I think learning to “just walk” with the Lord and how to rest in his timing this year, will be a beautiful thing.
So, on the literal side, if any of my UF pals want to be my walking buddy, let me know. Seriously. I’ll be putting in some miles around that track.
But on the spiritual side, challenge one of this series is to rest in God’s timing and to just walk into whatever he has.
Even if it's slow. Even if it scares you. Even if it’s not what you want. Even if it’s not what you think you need.
The Switchfoot fanatic in me will leave you with lyrics from one of their new songs, Let It Happen:
Let it happen, let it happen
Tomorrow knows what tomorrow knows
You can't make it get here sooner
Let it happen, let it happen
I don't hold what the future holds
But I know You're my future
Her pencil just kept scribbling on the paper. And my heart rate shot up a little bit more as she moved further down the paper.
“Your jokes are catching up to you.” I thought in my head.
For months, knowing I was a little behind in school because of changing my major and taking less credits every few semesters so I can give my body a breather or focus more on PT, I had been joking with my friends that I was actually a sophomore. Even though I really thought I was only a semester behind. No big deal.
But a few weeks ago, I sat across from my adviser’s desk as she wrote out a plan for the rest of my college career. By the time she finished, my graduation date was set for either Spring or Fall 2021. A full extra year to year and a half.
“I’m actually a sophomore.” I thought, walking out of the office. Feeling like I was living in a twilight zone.
I bee-lined it to Starbucks. Coffee fixes all my issues, right?
I got my coffee and waited to fix my coffee behind some random guy. As my cousins like to say, I like coffee with my cream.
“Sorry I’m taking so long,” random guy said.
“You’re fine, I’ll be here forever anyways. Spring 2021 to be exact.” Flustered me said.
“What…?”random guy questioned.
I internally face palmed. Any of my best friends know that I ramble when I’m either tired or stressed. In that moment, I was both of those things. I only had 5 hours of sleep a night all week. Thus, I had just informed a fellow coffee addict way too much about my life.
“Nothing. I’m so sorry. Rough morning. I didn’t mean for that to come out. Take your time, no worries.”
He gave me a confused smile and left quickly.
Once I sat down at a table, I literally just stared at the paper that had my future written out on it.
How did this happen?
I was literally sitting across from a friend a few weeks ago, at this exact table. I was telling her that college has made me no stranger to God wrecking my life plans.
Freshman Jordan’s plan: graduate in four years, land a dream job at ESPN and move right to Bristol, Connecticut.
Sophomore Jordan’s plan: realizing I love sports but probably don’t want to work in sports media, my plan turned to healthcare communications. Good. Set. Solid plan.
This year’s plan, thinking I was a Junior: I don’t know. Sports? Eh, maybe. Healthcare? A stronger maybe… can someone just pay me to write?
All I know is that I’m graduating in four years, buying a dog and finding somewhere where my horse can be in my backyard or right around the corner from me. Okay, ambitious I know. But a girl can dream, right?
As I sat at that table again a few weeks ago, clutching my coffee, I realized that my life’s plan just got wrecked. Again. At least the graduating in four years part.
I prayed nobody was watching me, because I definitely felt the tears coming.
“What am I doing? I don’t even have a “dream job” anymore. All I know is I love to write, and I think I’m okay at it. Do I just try to turn my blog into something? Do I finally write a book? I guess I have the time, now that I’m going to be here for two more years. Two more years? I honestly can’t even wrap my head around that.”
My mind was racing.
I started to make a list in my head of things I needed to try or do to attempt to figure out my life.
“Wait. That doesn’t even matter. Because God, you just seem to be a fan of knocking over all my plans. So why even try to plan?”
I stared at the paper some more. I let a few tears fall, not really caring at this point if anyone saw. My phone buzzed.
My brother, Hayden, replied to my frantic text: “Who doesn’t want to be in college longer?”
He’s right. College is fun. Adulthood sounds scary.
Wiping my tears, I thought: “So, what’s my problem?”
Most of your friends will be gone. You’ll be behind on life. You still don’t know what you want or what you’re doing. That’s your problem. One side of my brain said.
But then the probably more logical side of my brain jumped in:
You’re 21. Nobody really knows what they’re doing. This extra year isn’t something to be upset about. Because congrats, you get an extra year to year and a half of the most freedom you’ll ever have, to figure things out.
College is a really special time, and I know this.
It’s a time with some much freedom, so many people and opportunities.
With half a cup of coffee left, I decided to try and listen to the more logical side of my brain and shift my focus around this extra college year that was just plopped in my lap.
I know God has a plan, he must because mine constantly gets wrecked. But I’m learning that that’s something to be grateful for.
So, I’m telling myself that He has a reason for this extra year at UF.
I know that this is more time to invest in really solid people, relationships and community.
I know that it will be a really cool thing to be able to go a full four years with the sophomore girls I lead in bible study.
I know that it’s okay not to have my life and career figured out. But I know that this extra year is a blessing as I try to figure out what I can.
My prayer has become that God will do something special with my victory lap(s) and clearly show me His purpose and reason for keeping me at UF.
But I think the important thing here isn’t about how I get an extra year of college, it’s about plans. I think it’s okay and good to plan.
But where I have tripped up is when I lock in on my plan, with no openness or room for God’s plan for me.
Author Bob Goff is one of my biggest heroes. Fittingly, as I was writing this post, he tweeted this:
“God invites us to be part of His plans, not approve them.”
I’ve spent so much of my life mad because God surprised with something that didn’t fit in my plan. So, I was mad at Him because he didn’t run it by me first.
I’m learning that when your plans get wrecked for God’s plans, it’s one of the most beautiful things that can happen in life.
So today, I'm standing in the rubble of my wrecked plans, expectant and excited for what God has.
The bags under my eyes were heavy, but my smile was big on the other end of our phone call.
I told him about my day, and I remember laughing about something.
“Hey Scooter, you should write when you're happy.”
My dad’s words that came after my recovered laughter confused me a little.
“What do you mean? I do write when I’m happy.” I said.
“I know. But you also turn to writing when you’re struggling a lot of the time. Which isn’t bad, it’s good. But you haven’t put anything on your blog in a while.”
“I know, I’ve just been so busy I –”
“I know, trust me. You have. I’m not critiquing you. I’m just saying. Write when you’re happy.”
My dad was right. I haven’t put anything on here in a while. Reason being 75% actual busyness, and 25% major writers’ block. In fact, a folder now lives on my desktop named “Don’t Press Delete Just Yet”.
Collateral damage of months of writers’ block, where I’d get halfway through something, get frustrated and wonder if I should just trash it. But ultimately, my hope that I’ll come back to it wins and lands it in that folder.
I described my semester as a “rollercoaster” to my friends the other day.
This semester, my lows have felt like true low lows. Some gut-wrenching, like a stomach-flipping, massive rollercoaster drop.
My "last" surgery never seems to actually be the last. And there continues to be uncertainty around whether I’ll have more surgery or not. I’ve had more Hydrocephalus headaches and side effects than ever. I am still fighting chronic pain from my CP. I’ve struggled with feeling change happening in certain relationships close to me. I’ve prayed for a softened heart. And fear has often filled my head as I’ve thought about the future.
But while this semester has been really difficult at some points, my dad was right.
It has also been a really good one. Because I’ve learned a lot about what true joy is.
This semester, my rollercoaster highs have been high highs. Because I’ve learned a lot about what joy can be like, and it is eternal when you get it right.
True joy is early mornings, with coffee, spent in the Word. Even if an early morning means only four hours of sleep the night before.
True joy is remembering on a late-night FaceTime call, full of laughs, that my relationship with my brother will never change. We’ll always be two kids, who have each other’s’ backs and know how to make the other laugh hardest.
True joy is having phone calls with my grandma every Sunday.
True joy is eating pizookies in the middle of a busy week with a best friend, who has been a best friend since high school. And just knowing she’s going to be one of my best friends forever.
True joy is having sophomore girls huddle in my room every Tuesday and getting to witness growth in their walks with Jesus.
True joy is having my junior bible study come over the next night and getting to be challenged and loved by them, better than I deserve.
True joy is answering a friend’s call to “be irresponsible” with her, and going to get ice cream, late at night, when I really, really should be doing homework. True joy is not feeling guilty about it.
True joy is sitting in a parked car, talking to a friend for hours.
True joy is watching my parents together, and their story continue to unfold. True joy is realizing what a great example they have set for me and Hayden. True joy is seeing God’s hand in their story so obviously and tangibly, and something I love seeing and watching more every year.
True joy will always be coming home to an excited dog.
True joy is spending hours on top of my horse, in a big field, forgetting that I’m actually in the busy city of Orlando.
True joy is realizing that my identity is set in Christ. And it doesn’t rest in my grades, my disability or other people.
True joy is realizing that yes, I most likely will wake up in some sort of physical pain every day of my life, but that pain is a daily reminder that I can’t ignore that I need Jesus to get through the day. The joy is in the fact that because of my pain, I can be rooted in what’s important. Because of my pain, it’s hard to waiver from my need for Christ.
True joy is the small things. It’s realizing that the simple things are the things that matter. The things that will last.
This semester has rocked my world in so many ways.
But joy has been the underlying lesson and tone, even in the midst of some really hard stuff.
Dad, you’re right. Writing my words when I’m happy is important.
But I might argue that writing them down when I’m joyful is even more important.
There’s a difference, trust me.
This joy is eternal in ways that happiness never can be.
I’m thankful for a rollercoaster of a semester, growth and more lessons learned.
It’s almost time to say peace out to Fall 2018.
And I’m crazy thankful for all it has put me through.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13 (NIV)
In no specific order, here are 21 things I've learned in 21 years:
I felt untouchable.
Walking into this school year just three short weeks ago, my head was held high, and I felt like I wasn’t going to let anything get me down.
Before I left home, I asked both my parents and my brother what their favorite year of college was. They all said year three.
If that was all of their best year, it should be mine too. Right?
Granted, year three of college was when my parents started dating.
But still, skewed results and flawed logic aside, year three for me should follow suit with the rest of Team Ellis… right?
On Saturday, sitting in my dorm at midnight after the Gator game that they all came to Gainesville for, staring at my brother who had been standing there for an hour while I just sobbed, I wonder where my “best year yet” was.
I cried, as he begged me to talk to him. I told him he should leave, but he wouldn’t (firm believer in that a big brother is one of the best gifts God can give a girl).
He would let me cry, and then ask me again to talk to him.
I explained to him that I didn’t even know what exactly was wrong, because a lot of what was swirling around in my head didn’t make sense to me.
I feel more secure in the community I have here than I ever have, my faith is in a solid spot and my semester is lining up well. But still, I found myself struggling to not feel lonely and to feel happy a lot of days.
I explained to him how certain situations in my life are out of my control but feel like they’re controlling my life.
I explained to him the realization I’m having that every kid with CP is different. And while I’m truly in some of the best shape of my life, I’m still in a lot of pain. Which, at this point, likely means a lot of my pain is probably just going to be a chronic struggle for me.
And that just plain sucks and is a really hard pill to swallow.
I told him that it’s really hard for me that for the first time, the three of them are all together living in Orlando, and I’m here in Gainesville.
I wanted to go home. Suddenly, I was crumbling right in front of my brother.
Which was the last thing I was expecting coming into this year.
As I leaned into him and soaked his shirt with tears, I realized one thing: even when you feel untouchable, you still need other people. You still need to give into the freedom of depending on Jesus. Because that feeling of being untouchable is just that. A feeling. And even in just a short three weeks, it can be stripped from you.
As he sat on my bed, and my parents who had now come back into my dorm and were standing in front me, my eyes drifted to the top of my desk where I have a wall of sticky notes.
It’s full of words some of my favorite writers wrote, reminding me how to be grounded in what I write and of the type of writer I want to be. One stuck out to me:
“Next to grace, I bet God thinks making us need each other was one of his best ideas.”
~ Bob Goff
Even when you feel untouchable, you still need to lean on other people.
Even when you feel untouchable and feel like you can handle it, you still need to turn to God and let him handle it.
Because combining those two things is the only way you’ll actually be untouchable. Not just feel like it.
Still counting on year three to power over a few hard moments and difficult situations. But learning to not let expectations control everything.
And continuing to learn the freedom in dependency on Jesus and the important people in my life.
This blog has become a place where I try to follow the Lord’s call on my life and put my story out there. My hope is that someone going through a similar situation can learn from my journey and know that they are not alone.
I hope in that, it is obvious that none of this is about me but about what the Lord can do.
Last week, I stood in front of the people who have become my family at UF and tried to tell them all that the Lord has done in my life since starting college and how they have played a massive part in pulling me through some of the hardest stuff I’ve faced.
This small piece of the internet I own has also become a place where I try to thank the people that mean the most to me.
So, this post is for two reasons: to thank those people and to hopefully show you the power of true community.
College has undoubtedly been way harder than I thought it would be.
As a freshman, I hit a point where I was wondering what the heck I was doing at UF. I yelled at God for putting Cerebral Palsy (CP) in my life. I couldn’t accept my situation, so I felt like it was impossible for me to be loved and accepted by other people.
I thought about the future more than ever and was filled with more fear than ever.
It was a year of loneliness, anger and fear.
But then through a friend from home, I was brought into a community that wrapped their arms around me and accepted me and my brokenness in a way I can truly say, I’ve never experienced before.
I’ve always been the shy, quiet kid. I tend to hide a little and step back, feeding into my number one fear: that my crutches and I are a burden to people.
But suddenly, I found myself in a huddle of people who broke down pretty much every wall I had built. A group that didn’t care about my crutches but cared about me. People who I cried in front of, was brutally honest with and people who walked with me through my darkest places.
People who recognized my struggle with CP and everything that comes with that and pointed me to Jesus, even when he was who I was maddest at.
People who said through their actions and words that they weren’t going to leave me.
Through lots of tears, time in the Word and the most honest conversations I’ve ever had, these people have helped me see that I am so much more than my disability and that I have so much worth.
Putting on a brave face is something I’ve become really good at. But I’m so thankful for this community that has seen past just my brave face and seen the truth of what I struggle with. Even when I don’t want them to.
The past two years, I have grown so much in my faith. And I owe that to the people I’ve found here, who I’ve been able to lean on.
Two years ago, if you asked me how I felt about having CP, I would’ve told you that I wouldn’t change it because I knew that the Lord had a plan to use it in my life.
Half of me believed that. Half of me was probably saying it because it was what I wanted to believe, but I didn’t really.
In the past two years, through the people who the Lord instrumentally placed in my life, I have learned these things:
An eternal mindset is what matters. With a focus that one day, when I’m with the Lord, I’ll wake for the first time in my life pain-free, I’ll run and I’ll kick a soccer ball without falling over, I can find true joy and hope.
I have worth in being a Child of God that isn’t any less because of my CP.
My story isn’t about me. It’s about how the Lord has taken one the hardest things in my life and used it for his glory.
Honesty and vulnerability are scary. But they're what builds the most meaningful relationships.
True community can change your life and save your life. It did both of those things to mine.
Today if you ask me how I feel about having CP, I’d tell you wholeheartedly that it is one of the biggest blessings in my life, it’s 100% what keeps me rooted in my faith and it’s full of hope. Because the Lord’s plan is great, and my CP isn’t forever.
But I would also tell you that I would’ve never believed that or found that answer if I didn’t meet the people I did at UF.
To my UF Navs fam, you truly have no clue just how deep your impact has been on my life. Thank you for loving me and accepting me and helping me do the same to myself. Thank you for pointing me to the truth even when it was the last thing I wanted to hear. Thanks for pushing me out of my box and helping me to be things I never thought I could be.
To the freshman or new kid on a college campus struggling with something, feeling alone and unworthy: I was you. It may take a bit to find true community, and that’s okay. It took me a year.
But keep looking for it.
And when you find it, invest. Be honest, don’t run away when you want to.
Because those are the times you really should stay.