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.
As I walked the halls of the hospital at work the other week, I realized how one sentence has controlled so much of my life.
A little boy in a lime green wheelchair sat not smiling, in a lobby I know too well. I gave him and his family a smile and a subtle wave, because I could ballpark the type of news they just got.
And it’s not fun. I’ve been there.
As I rounded the corner into one specific hallway, my heart rate shot up.
I looked at the train set in the middle of that hallway. I still hate MRIs to this day. I still cry and sometimes panic, once a year in that tube.
At 20 years old, an MRI is still what gets me. My breath gets short and heavy and tears spill as my mind reels over and over, refusing to forget the one or two times that things weren’t okay.
And as a kid, seeing that train set, decorated happily for every season and holiday, was the only thing that kept me calm some days on my way back to the MRI machines.
As I circled back around, I pinpointed exact chairs I’ve sat in beside my family and pastor as we prayed before I headed up to an O.R.
As I left the hospital that day, I saw a bench I’ve sat on more times than I can count. I remember sitting there sobbing into my mom’s shirt, saying one thing:
“I just want to be normal.”
In middle school when I was sitting at home in a wheelchair instead of at school, I cried the same thing.
In high school, I sighed and said the same thing to myself again when I watched everyone getting ready for Homecoming or Prom from the sidelines.
A few days ago, as I went in my garage to do PT for the second time that day, I cried.
And said the same thing.
“I just want to be normal.”
As I walked around the hospital that day, it hit me. So many kids in these hallways, no matter their medical challenge, were probably saying the same thing.
It made me reflect back on how often I’ve thought that sentence and how it has skewed my view of my life, without me even realizing it. I forced myself to think back on the earliest time I can remember thinking that my life wasn’t or never was going to be “normal.”
At 20, I sat in my room, and was suddenly really sad when I forced myself to pinpoint my first “I’m never going to be normal” memory.
I was 10. My second-cousin, who really feels more like a sister to me, was getting married. I was a Junior Bridesmaid, and I was so nervous walking down the aisle.
I just didn’t want to trip and fall.
As I stood at the back of the church ready to go, I’ll never forget the strange feeling of relief I had.
“At least this is probably the only time I’ll have to worry about walking down an aisle like this. People with canes and walkers don’t get married.”
I was 10 and thinking that is still so vivid to me.
I remember just taking it as fact.
I was 10, and I had already started to fully believe things that probably aren’t true about my life. Just because I didn’t think I was “normal.”
A 10-year-old shouldn’t be writing a story like that for her life. But that’s how much my idea of “normal” messed with my head.
When I was 16, I wondered if I’d ever be “normal” and be able to drive.
When I was 17, I hated that I still wasn’t “normal” and couldn’t play soccer.
When I was 18, and I stood across a teacher’s desk as they told me that they thought I needed to go to a small college because of my challenges, I thought: “I just want to be normal. I just want to be a Gator. I got into UF. I want to be a Gator. But can I actually? What if they’re right, what if it’s too much?”
When I wake up every single morning and something hurts, it’s a really easy thing to think.
As all these memories were flooding back in my head, I started to get really mad.
I hated that one word, normal, had controlled so much of my mind and my life.
While this is still something I say in my low points and “being normal” is still a lie I fight away, I know now that there really isn’t actually a “normal.”
Because no two people are the same, and everyone’s got something.
The reason I’m writing this post is for the medically challenged kids, thinking that poisonous sentence right now.
Because truly, honestly, it is one of the worst things you can do to yourself in my opinion. You’ll slowly start to think it at every stage of your life. Trust me. I’ve done it.
It’ll create lies. It’ll drive you crazy.
So, to the kid in a walker, the kid in a hospital bed, the kid who has had more surgeries than years on this Earth:
Take it from someone who has done it all her life and wishes she didn’t. Never say or think “I wish I was a normal.”
Don’t. What even is “normal” anyways?
Sure, some of us don’t walk like our friends. Or we have more doctors’ appointments than anyone else we know. Or we know the ins and outs of a hospital better than our school.
And while those things can really suck sometimes, do me a favor. Don’t let the idea of not wanting your life to be that way, define the way your life actually is and is going to be.
Spoiler alert: I’m a Gator, and I drive a car. I'm getting around not being “normal” just fine.
When you’re stuck in this medically challenged bubble, it’s so easy to instantly hate it and search for a way out. I’ve done it time and time again.
But as I sat across from my dad at breakfast the other morning, one sentence he said hit home.
“I think you know that those crutches have created just as much blessing as they have struggle in your life and ours.”
To the kid like me, wishing that they were “normal,” don’t do it.
Take your life in front of you for the great thing that is. Don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do.
Don’t let one word that really isn’t even a true thing, skew how you look at and live your life.
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well."
There’s a line in one of my favorite Switchfoot songs, Dare You to Move. It goes:
The tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be
I read those words recently, and honestly nothing struck home more. Lately, I’ve felt myself stuck in the frustration of who I could be and how I think things “should” be.
I’ve discovered that college feels like this weird, hopeful but frustrating time. The world is at my fingertips in some sense. But a lot of days, I just don’t know what to do with it.
I have unfinished journal after unfinished journal, because there are too many words in my head. I have dream after dream that I haven’t told anyone about because disappointment is something I’m most scared of.
I sit in my room too often, stuck in my daydreams. I chase them in circles in my brain, until they spin themselves into frustration and I fall into a hole of “should bes.”
Should bes that cause me to be hard on myself like:
I should be farther along in my dream of writing a book.
I should have a better answer for what I want to do with my life.
I should be a better daughter, sister, friend and relative.
So many more follow suit. Should bes that scream frustration for the people I love.
Shoulds bes are painted with hurt from broken dreams.
And should bes that get in the way of dreams that I haven’t even pursued.
So often, I don’t live in the present. I get trapped in the tension of the ways I think things should be.
I think of the future and dream of all I want to be and get stuck in a circle of “could be.”
But the frustration is where I think I get tripped up.
I get frustrated that my “could bes” and “should bes” aren’t reality because of how fast paced everything is in today’s world.
Comparison is at the core, and I believe that it drives so many people down.
The thing I’ve had to learn lately is to not live in the “should bes.”
The fact of our instant gratification world makes me believe that a lot of dreams are dead, just because I don’t have them right now.
When in fact they’re not dead, they’re just not here yet.
I think the thing I’ve found peace in is learning to love my pace. It may not be as fast as the person next to me, but that’s okay.
Some of my friends are graduating early with not one, but two degrees. I’m smiling, and suiting up for “sophomore year 2.0,” as I like to call it. Because right now, your pal here isn’t graduating on time.
But I’ve learned that that is perfectly fine.
“Should bes” and “could bes” are dangerous things in my opinion.
Because so often, they instantly turn into frustration.
But I think there’s actually so much excitement in all the “could bes” in my life. The dreams that might happen.
And there’s freedom in leaving the “should bes” behind.
“Could bes” are something that still have the capability to come true and “should bes” are something that can lead to so much freedom when you let them go. I see “could bes” as something I might still have a chance to control and “should bes” as something that I don’t necessarily have that chance with.
But all of that is freeing, hopeful and okay.
The tension is here. And that is a good thing.
I can’t tell you how many times I told God that: “But this isn’t where I want to be.”
By my sophomore year in high school, I was convinced that if I was at any other school, life would instantly be better, and my problems would magically disappear .
I didn’t want to be in that season of life; a season riddled with friend problems, insecurities and pain.
Even as a graduating senior, I thought nothing good would come from this time. I told God that all I got from that period was lots of tears, deep wounds and trust issues, loneliness and bitterness.
But when I look back now, I see him at work. I see that my tears drew my family closer together.
I see now that he has turned my wounds and trust issues that developed in that time, into a deep appreciation for the friendships that do and will last.
I see that he used my loneliness to draw me into him. He used my bitterness to really show me that my heart needed a lot of work.
Fast forward to the middle of my freshman year of college, and I was saying the same thing.
“God, I don’t want to be here.”
I would look at that view of UF and feel sick.
I was again convinced of something false. I was convinced I had made the biggest mistake of my life coming to UF.
The transfer applications open in my browser on any day that spring screamed what I thought was the truth: I didn’t want to be here. This wasn’t the place for me. I needed to get out.
But I didn’t leave for some reason. I stuck around, despite my attempt to convince God that I needed to be somewhere else.
Looking at the present, I see why he put me through that and kept me a Gator.
My freshman pain is the reason why I appreciate and seek true community so much. My freshman pain gave me perspective and showed me how much I blew small issues out of proportion. My freshman pain showed me truly, that God’s plan is always greater.
Sometimes I just have to wait it out, even if “I don’t want to be there.”
Just two days ago, I caught myself saying that again.
At the beginning of this semester, I had a dream of a summer planned with one goal in mind: to not be Orlando this summer. Circumstance after circumstance happened, and my “dream of a summer” completely fell through.
And guess where I’m 95% sure I’ll be this summer?
You guessed it: home. In Orlando. The one place I said, “No definitely not,” to.
Right after my plan exploded right in my face, I stomped my foot, and hit God with that whiney statement: “But God, I don’t want to be in Orlando this summer.”
With no other choice, I sat back and waited. I prayed for something to come up, so I wasn’t just sitting at home all summer.
Without giving too much away because I have nothing secured yet, something did come up.
In a completely chance way.
A dream of an opportunity if it works out, in the one place I didn’t want to be this summer.
Sitting here today, I’m face-palming myself and smiling.
Because who am I to ever say that where God is placing me isn’t the place to be?
Learning slowly but surely to stop telling him that I don’t want to be right in the middle of his glorious, perfect plan.
Because in the end, it always works out better than I could have ever planned.
Know this: it is so cool, freeing and humbling to just be wherever God puts you in life.
“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.”
God’s timing is so sweet, friends. Lean in, and trust it.
Related posts: Buckling up through chronic pain: when it takes me down, but God meets me in the valleys.