In the wake of a really beautiful and restful birthday, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on how far the last year has brought me. I turned 30 last September 19th. And then the bottom fell out of my world. For 36 days I, along with my family, my community, and a team of 18 (yes… 18) doctors tried to figure out why my body was slowly and very painfully shutting down. I sat and listened to doctor after doctor give me prognoses that landed like gut punches and repeatedly broke my spirit. I questioned God and tried to rationalize that I didn’t deserve this suffering. Even a year later, the full diagnosis is unclear, but this is a list of some of the things that went down during my almost 40 days in the hospital:
There was a point, 25+ days into my hospital stays when I was so weary that I no longer had the capacity for words. I was sleeping in the recliner in my room because I was finding it impossible to find relief from my pain in the bed. We were no longer opening the curtains because the outside light was giving me headaches and eye pain. I was using a feeding tube, almost all of veins in my hands, arms, and feet were no longer viable because of the repeated blood draws and IVs I’d needed over the previous few weeks, I was sleeping 18-20 hours a day and I was constantly medicated to stave off crippling pain. I didn’t want to hear one more doctor tell me they didn’t know what was happening and they weren’t sure of how to fix it. I was tired of their “solutions” causing new issues and new pain accompanying those issues. [Medical mysteries are only cool when they are on tv]. I saw fear and defeat in the faces of not only medical professionals, but also the family and friends that were allowed in to visit me. It felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
Then… one day, my nurse came in and she prayed over me. She didn’t speak directly to me, or even acknowledge that I wept silently as she held my hand and prayed for healing and strength to continue my fight. She spoke about the fear she saw and the sleepless nights we were all experiencing. She cried out for my pain to stop. She prayed specifically for my mom and gave thanks for her steadfast love and presence during my stay. She spoke all the words my spirit longed to say. She thanked God for the gift of life and then she was left. She brought calm– in the middle of the storm– long enough for me to know I wasn’t fighting alone.
In the moments where sadness and sickness weren’t all consuming, there was anger. I was so angry that I was losing my ability to make choices for myself. I was angry I kept having to make life decisions that had long term ramifications even though I was only given limited information and little time for consideration. I was so angry because my 30 year old body was failing to be healthy, failing to fight a mystery illness and failing to do what it should do to protect me. I was angry that my dream of “starting 30 with a bang” happened, but not in a way I would have ever wanted. I was angry because the plans for my future were being derailed. Because I was causing so much undue stress to my family. I was angry because I was letting people down. And because as a Type A/ OCD personality I was completely out of control.
Music was my one respite from the darkness. It lifted my spirit, spoke to my longing, ached with me in my sadness, and justified my anger. Most days I would just shuffle songs until I fell asleep in between rounds of tests and scheduled medication. Through it all there was one song that carried me through the dark nights of my soul when there were no answers. I would listen to it on repeat because it was the only truth I could cling to:
🎶Even when the fight seems lost
I’ll praise You
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise You
Even when it makes no sense to sing–
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise🎶
Even in the midst of my suffering, I remembered that God is faithful, ever present and a great comforter. Even when I couldn’t articulate my reason for praising, I played this song all the more. It didn’t always comfort me, but it always reminded me that suffering serves a purpose and will ultimately work together for God’s glory.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Father who is full of mercy, the God of all comfort. He comforts us every time we have trouble so that when others have trouble, we can comfort them with the same comfort God gives us.” -2 Corinthians 1:3-4
I know that sometimes my gratitude or zeal towards life may seem hokey or even disingenuous, but there is a deep and abiding well of gratitude that I hope to never exhaust. I’m a living testament to God’s faithfulness, to the power or prayer, to the gift of modern medical practices, and to His unfailing mercy towards us. I’m grateful to the hundreds of hospital staff that cared for me and my family as we walked through my illness. I am grateful to friends who texted, called, Facetimed, prayed, broke into quarantine (lookin’ at you Seadub ❤️), sent gifts, cards, flowers, care packages for my family, packed up my apartment, and loved on my family. I’m grateful for my brother and SIL for making the drive from south Texas to sit and watch me sleep for hours on end just to get 10 coherent minutes with me each day. I’m grateful for a dad that drove 2 hours to visit me every day for a few hours just to drive 2 hours home and take care of my dog and prepare for work the next morning. I’m grateful for bosses that treated me like family and needed to see me for themselves that I wasn’t alright. I’m grateful for community that rallied around me to keep me up to speed on celebrity gossip, current world events, local weather patterns and anything else that would remind me that everyday above ground was a blessing. I’m grateful for a mom who slept on a hospital couch for 36 nights and days and never left my side as I cried, raged, emotionally crumbled, barked orders, wasted away, couldn’t walk, couldn’t stand, couldn’t sit up, argued incoherently, and cried incessantly about a pain she could do nothing to relieve.
I’m grateful for a God who knew the darkness and brokenness I would experience in Uganda, so he prepared my heart by allowing me to walk through suffering and loss in a way that would resonate and change me for the better. I’m grateful for his grace. And faithfulness. I’m grateful for hindsight.
I’ve been calling 31 my “do-over” birthday, but really it’s just a continuation of my tour of gratitude. One year after my initial intake day, I am healthy, thriving, deeply in love with the life I’m living and overwhelmed by the people God has placed in my life. I won’t let the little things get me down because I’m grateful for each chance I get to experience the inconveniences in life. September 19th was a hard day because reflecting on the past year meant remembering a lot of pain. But there was so much joy that came out of the last year. God’s not done with me. 31 is just the beginning of a life spent spreading gratitude and comforting those currently walking through their own moments of suffering. Whether it’s 1 more year or 80 more, I’ll remember the joy that was wrought from my suffering and I’ll continue to praise him … Even when it makes no sense.