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Redemption

“O God, our help in ages past, / Our hope for years to come, / Our shelter from the stormy blast, / And our eternal home!”

It’s been a year.

I started off the year with amnesia. (One of the medications I was given before my hand surgery had the side effect of forward amnesia for ~24 hours. I remember being in the recovery room, then about 15 minutes when I was at home. The next day, I didn’t remember anything else that had happened. Funny way to start out the year.)

Then my next challenge was eating soup with my non-dominant hand. I had to become somewhat ambidextrous quickly.

Like 2017, I spent the first few months of 2018 in rehab, trying to gain back the functioning of one of my joints. However, this recovery was infinitely less difficult than the previous year. Things starting looking up as I finished out my undergrad experience.

Then I got sick. And a few months later, I realized that the issue was here to stay. Thank you, POTS. At the end of 2018, I still feel inadequate in managing these new symptoms of my autonomic nervous system. (It’s hard to control the functions that your body is supposed to perform naturally.)

2019 will not be without its challenges. I’ve seen my shoulder surgeon again to discuss operating on my other shoulder. TBD whether or not this occurs in 2019. And I’m sure I’ll develop new symptoms, as I have each year for the past few years.

But I am truly looking forward to this new year. Here’s why.

As I begin my second semester in my Master of Social Work program, I’ll begin an internship that will continue at this site until I graduate. I can’t wait to start working with the Alabama Head Injury Foundation!

This organization provides services to traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients and acquired brain injury (ABI) patients throughout the state. From AHIF’s website:

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  TBI is caused by a blow or jolt to the
head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the
brain. A rapid acceleration or deceleration of the head, which can force the
brain to move back and forth inside the skull, can also cause TBI. The stress from these rapid movements pull apart nerve fibers and cause damage to the brain tissue.

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI).  ABI is an injury to the brain that has
occurred after birth and is not hereditary, congenital or degenerative. ABI
takes place at the cellular level within the brain; most symptoms of ABIs are
very similar to those of TBIs.

The people I’ll have the privilege of working with have experienced injuries that have altered not only their daily routines but also the courses of their lives. They have most likely experienced grief over the loss of particular abilities and the normalcy of their lives before obtaining injuries. They likely become frustrated each time they desire to perform a task that their bodies prohibit them from performing. They are likely seeking hope in situations that probably feel hopeless.

In addition to getting to know these inspiring men, women, and children, I am excited to work with these patients because of my ability to empathize with parts of their situations. As I learn how to support these individuals, I believe that God will be redeeming my own story.

In my first semester in this grad program, the LORD taught me, through my professors and mentors, that I don’t have to share my own story in order for the LORD to redeem it. Part of the redemption of my story is the absorption of my own story into God’s overarching story of redemption of His people; elements of my own story (i.e. being spiritually disabled, grace enabled) can point to the ultimate hope we have for ultimate redemption, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I can imagine no greater privilege than for my story to be used in this way.

I recently listened to the English translation of an Advent sermon Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached on Luke 21. In verses 27 and 28, Jesus proclaims, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Bonhoeffer describes the waiting believers experience until Jesus’ return:

Think of a hospital where a patient lies, suffering from an incurable disease, in agony with indescribable pain, dying slowly and slowly longing for the peace of death to end this plague. And now one day, the doctor comes to the patient and says with confidence, “Today you will be released. Your terminal illness will be healed. Lift up your head, and be delivered from your pain.”

Even if my redemption doesn’t come with complete physical healing in this lifetime, my redemption is coming with Christ, as He enters our realm once more to set an end to death and mourning and crying and pain.

In this coming season, I can’t wait to watch God work all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

 

Thanksgiving as a Cross-Cultural Shared Meal

In undergrad, I typically posted a semester summary following each semester. Well grad school is different, and I’ve already learned a lot at this point. So here’s my semester summary.

More than my ligaments and tendons have been stretched this semester. I have had some dislocations and subluxations, but thankfully they have occurred in multiple joints. I say thankfully because if I injured the same joint repeatedly, that might make me consider another surgery. Since I’ve had fairly common injuries for my condition about once per injured joint this semester, I’m happy to announce that–unless something goes horribly wrong in the next month–I will NOT be having surgery over Christmas break.  And so I proclaim,

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.

Psalm 147:1

Overall, I have done much better than I expected, health-wise. I have been able to attend all but one of my three-hour lectures. I have also been able to divide my time between my part-time job and my internship–both at different nonprofit ministries. This is how I have been stretched.

Both ministries I have worked with this semester offer services to adults with low socioeconomic status. I have been exposed to the complexities of life below the poverty line in the United States. I’ve also had the privilege to get to know the individuals to whom we offer services.

My favorite memory of this semester occurred while I was sitting in my car by myself. I was parked in front of the ministry where I intern, which is just a block away from where I work. Context: This is not the nicest neighborhood. As I was waiting for my supervisor to arrive, I watched two men walk by on opposite sides of the road. It turned out that I knew both of them; each was from one of the nonprofits I work with.

A year ago, if I had been parked in this neighborhood by myself and I watched two men walk by, I would not have been tempted to wave them down and yell out their names. But I know their names. I know them. I know that one likes to listen to Mariah Carey, and the other one likes anything chocolate. I know some of the health challenges of each. I know the source of community for each.

People who I previously would have avoided are now people whom I love in Christ dearly.  I’ve also grown in my understanding of God’s character, in relation to the oppressed: The LORD has loved them all along.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.

Psalm 147:2

At times, empathy for those whom I know in poverty has been overwhelming. The suffering that others endure makes me angry for their sake.

Perhaps the situation that caused me the most distress this semester was witnessing others’ suffering that resulted from poor decisions. I questioned how God could allow people to make poor decisions that drastically affect their lives and the lives of others. In response, He showed me the emptiness and brokenness they experienced that led to the decision to seek fulfillment apart from Him.

Whether we seek fulfillment in Him or not, God still cares. Whether self-inflicting wounds or not, the LORD heals.

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

Another common attitude I’ve observed is the desire to be known through altering one’s identity. Succumbing to the expectations of others or of oneself suggests the need to be seen and understood.

I’ve started reading the book God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker. At the beginning of this book, Walker explains that human beings are worth more than the sum of our parts. While we might view ourselves, or others might view us, in a critical light that exposes our imperfections, the LORD knows who we truly are and does not compartmentalize our imperfections; if the LORD knows the name of each star He created, He must know us and value us fully, completely, and perfectly.

He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.

Psalm 147:4

A number of the adults I have had the privilege of working with have tested at a level that identifies them as functionally illiterate. This makes filling out job applications, filling out medical paperwork, and participating in elections extremely difficult and, undoubtedly, discouraging. Part of my job requires providing guidance and encouragement to adults who have higher literacy scores and are preparing to take the GED test. For many of them, I know that this process of preparation is frustrating. Learning disabilities provide obstacles to understanding or retaining material. Yet with diligence, these students persist.

When I can’t understand why the LORD would inhibit someone’s ability to comprehend through learning disabilities, He is able to understand our needs better than we can.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.

Psalm 147:5

As I’ve studied Social Work Policy this semester, I’ve realized that, in many cases, an outside source of authority is the root of oppression that groups experience. I am angry that much oppression that is experienced today is the result of past oppression; poverty is a cycle that cannot easily be broken. I imagine that those who are caught in the cycle of poverty at times feel hopeless in the effort to break the cycle.

Those who are oppressed by authoritative individuals, institutions, or even ideologies experience humility, with which our Savior is very familiar. Due to Jesus’ experience with unfair trials, the LORD knows the pain of unjust government decisions more than anyone else; therefore, the LORD will take action to restore the oppressed and remind them of their innate dignity.

The Lord lifts up the humble;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

Psalm 147:6

Listed in brackets are fairly common characteristics I have observed in the people I have encountered in the past few months. These are the promises my God offers those who accept His free gift of grace. I am praying that, if these people have not already, they would receive Jesus’ gift of salvation and partake of these blessings:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

[those who are depressed because of the hopelessness they feel when their Social Security benefits aren’t enough]

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn,

[those who have become disabled and mourn their able-bodied past]

for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek,

[those who have experienced so much trauma that they refuse to speak to new people]

for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

[those with food insecurity who declare the LORD’s praises amidst their suffering]

for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful,

[those who reconcile their relationships with their abusive parents upon being released from jail]

for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart,

[those with intellectual disabilities who bring joy to everyone they encounter]

for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,

[those who are grandparents raising their grandchildren, in order to keep peace with their children]

for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

[those whose family members will not speak with them because they do not want to hear the gospel declared]

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3-10

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul instructs believers to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” While it is difficult to be thankful for the extent of suffering I have witnessed in the lives of others, I am thankful for the hope that is offered to the oppressed through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
    make melody to our God on the lyre!

Psalm 147:7

This past Sunday, I heard a sermon that included a refresher on the history of Thanksgiving. This was the first occasion that I realized that Thanksgiving was a meal shared by the oppressed and the oppressors; each year, we celebrate an event of unity between different races, religions, ways of life.
Takeaway: Get to know those who feel oppressed by society. (Side note: You don’t get to determine whether someone has or has not experienced oppression.) Listen to their stories. Share a meal! Individuals with different backgrounds than you have a lot to bring to the table.

Post-Grad POTS

A week before I graduated (so right before finals), I got a sinus infection. Not unusual for me during finals week. Also the pollen concentration in Birmingham was ridiculously high. So I went to urgent care, got meds, and walked across the stage to receive a participation award that I paid thousands of dollars for. Moving on.

For a graduation trip, I went with my parents to Savannah. Lovely trip. However, the pollen concentration of Birmingham shifted to Savannah while we were there. So I got a sinus infection. Again. Because I had only been off meds for 12 days, I waited to start another round of antibiotics. In the waiting period, it developed into bronchitis. Which forced me to go to urgent care on Memorial Day, because I was supposed to start my job the next day.

The plan was to get meds, get home, and get ready to commute to Birmingham the next day for work. That didn’t exactly happen. When my heart rate and blood pressure were taken, the nurse expressed concern. Sitting down, my heart rate was 116, and my blood pressure was 88/58. I was impressed by how thorough the doctor was at urgent care…on Memorial Day. She concluded that I was dehydrated (hence the high HR and crazy low BP). We tried to do IV fluids, but I was so dehydrated that they couldn’t get a vein. So she told me that I needed to hydrate like crazy or go to the ER. I chose to hydrate like crazy. With some added concern about my BP, especially.

Fast forward a week. The week that I was actually supposed to start my job, since I was no longer contagious. The night before my commute, I didn’t sleep. Not that I couldn’t get to sleep for a while. I didn’t sleep. At all. I still went to work. (Because I’m a dedicated worker, @ any potential employer who might find this someday.) I tried to take a nap after work. I couldn’t. I can’t remember exactly how long I was awake, but it was somewhere between 35 and 39 hours.

That wasn’t okay with me. So I saw my general practitioner for anxiety meds a few days later. I told him about the high heart rate I had the week before, and he said he had noticed in the past that my heart rate is generally high. He started me on an SSRI to manage insomnia and see if it would lower my heart rate.

At the advice of my wonderful roommate Katie, I started keeping track of my heart rate. My average heart rate for the remainder of June was 98; it rarely went below 90. Here’s another example: One day in July, I cleaned my room and got my heart rate up to 117. So I sat on my bed for 15 minutes. Which then increased my heart rate to 134. 🤷🏼‍♀️

So that’s what I’ve been dealing with lately, in addition to the normal dislocations. I waited until July to get a referral for a specialist here in Birmingham. Thankfully Katie has a fantastic doctor who treats her dysautonomia aka dysfunctioning of the autonomic nervous system. “The Autonomic Nervous System controls the “automatic” functions of the body that we do not consciously think about, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, dilation and constriction of the pupils of the eye, kidney function, and temperature control. People living with various forms of dysautonomia have trouble regulating these systems, which can result in lightheadedness, fainting, unstable blood pressure, abnormal heart rates, malnutrition, and in severe cases, death” (from Dysautonomia International). I had my appointment with this doctor this week.

Appointment summary: I got on a treadmill for the first time since 2011 (since I’ve had plantar fasciitis in both feet and was instructed in 2016 not to run, due to the risk for joint injury). That was real fun. I survived, but my heart rate got up to 182 by the third of four levels. I’ve been recovering ever since. Also this sign was hanging above my head after I stumbled back to a room and collapsed on a table. Definitely was walking humbly.

IMG_5749

Results summary: I have dysautonomia and, more specifically, POTS–Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. *copied and pasted to ensure proper spelling* Basically my heart rate gets too high when I stand up, contributing to even more fatigue than I experience due to muscular fatigue. POTS also includes the symptoms I’ve dealt with this summer: low BP, insomnia, anxiety-like responses, etc.

Treatment plan: No more new medication. 🙌🏻 Instead, we’re trying to increase the blood content in my body, so that my heart doesn’t have to work as hard. Basically, here’s my treatment plan:

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If you need me, I’ll either be chugging water or salt. But really though–I’m supposed to get twice the recommended daily amount of sodium intake for a normal person. 5. Grams. Of. Salt. Per. Day.

Also, I can’t have caffeine, which increases heart rate. Pray for me, considering I start grad school in two weeks.

There are also many factors considering body position, in order to simplify the pathway of blood flow. So many that it’s actually been looming constantly in the back of my mind for the past week.

And that’s felt more draining than actually having POTS. (With an “S”.) There is always something I need to be doing to keep my symptoms under control. On top of what I already knew about my joints: I have to strengthen the muscles around each joint in order to possibly avoid dislocations. Or they could happen even if I do strengthen those muscles. Honestly, this week I’ve felt like all of these treatment/prevention instructions I’ve been given are pointless and require more energy than I possess.

I’m still processing everything. I’m trying to figure out what this new diagnosis changes for my life today, my life when school starts, and my life in the field of social work.

I talked to some of you towards the beginning of these symptoms about my frustration over not being able to slow down my heart or fall asleep. These are things that you can’t succeed at if you “try.” My problem is that I want my efforts to be successful.

I also feel somewhat guilty for my mind being overtaken with this new protocol. At one point in my life, I had a similar experience of thoughts constantly looming in the back of my mind. It was when I felt bound by the law; I felt like I always needed to be doing something to please God. In a sense, I feel guilty because I’m not doing as much for the Kingdom as I am to keep myself alive.

I ask that you, brothers and sisters in Christ, pray that I would be grounded in the truth of the gospel, that I would surrender my desire for control over my physical limitations, and that I would (in the words of my friend Misty praying over me) be able to enjoy God’s presence by simply resting.

I’ll end on a more redemptive note.

About the same time we started wondering if I had POTS, I started attending a church that takes communion each Sunday. After a particularly rough week, I heard the pastor describe believers’ need to literally taste the goodness of the gospel. The Holy Spirit guided this thought progression:

By partaking of the LORD’s supper, my body consumes Jesus’ blood. By consuming Jesus’ blood, I increase my blood content. By increasing my blood content, my heart can rest. By resting in the work that Jesus did on the cross, by His wounds, I am healed.

Also, here’s my new favorite Psalm:

In vain you get up early and stay up late,

working hard to have enough food—

yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves.

Psalm 127:2 (HCSB)

13 Reasons Why Biblical Characters Chose Life Amidst Despair

Some of these reasons are more admirable than others. But the great thing about the Bible is that it includes the good, the bad, and the ugly, which God, in turn, takes and makes beautiful.

1. Moses chose life because God had given Him a leadership position and a task to complete.

“‘But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.’ But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.’”

Exodus 32:32-34

2. Elijah chose life because cake…and also God provided him with strength to face the journey ahead.

“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.’ And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.”

1 Kings 19:4-8

3. Job chose life to “find a little cheer.”

“Why did you bring me out from the womb?
    Would that I had died before any eye had seen me
19 and were as though I had not been,
    carried from the womb to the grave.
20 Are not my days few?
    Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer”

Job 10:18-20

4. Job chose life because he was given permission by God to question God.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’”

Job 42:3-4

5. David chose life because God heard his cry.

“The cords of death encompassed me;
    the torrents of destruction assailed me;[a]
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry to him reached his ears.”

 

Psalm 18:4-6

6. David chose life because God delighted in him when (it seemed to David that) no one else did.

He sent from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of many waters.
17 He rescued me from my strong enemy
    and from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”

Psalm 18:16-19

7. David chose life because he knew that he would have reason to praise God again.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.”

Psalm 42:11

8. Jeremiah chose life because, tomorrow morning, God’s mercies will be new.

“Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.”

 

Lamentations 3:19-23

9. Jonah chose life to see God’s judgment come to fruition in this lifetime.

“‘Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?’ Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.

Jonah 4:3-5

10. Paul chose life because of the option to “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[b] of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”

2 Corinthians 1:8-10

11. Paul chose life because God’s grace is sufficient.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,[a] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

12. Paul chose life “for your progress and joy in the faith.” Yes, you who are still studying his letters centuries later.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

Philippians 1:21-26

13. Jesus chose life for you when He chose death for Himself.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

John 10:10-18

My Samford Scars

Most people I know had to begin their college experience with the repetitive act of sharing a fun fact about themselves. I’ll start this post the same way: When I applied to Samford, my selected major was Music Composition. That changed by the time interviews came along for both my scholarship program and the Division of Music. By that point, it was Music Education, which changed a year later to Music and Worship. I auditioned on both flute and piano because I wasn’t sure which instrument I wanted to be my primary instrument. In my two years as a music major, I ended up with a small taste of each of these academic areas.

In the two years I had in the music department, I was able to do everything I had hoped to do over the course of four years. While I had hoped to spend more time in these areas, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a).

What the Lord orchestrated after those two years was absolutely necessary: My time as a music major was a time of finding my identity in my abilities. It was completely necessary for the God who “gives and takes away” (Job 1:21) to exercise His sovereignty over my life by removing my ability to rely on my abilities as the source of my identity.

While I was bitter for a long time, I’m not anymore. Recently I heard a song that reinforced in a particularly relevant way that my identity lies in how God views me:

“I’m not living for applause. / I’m already so adored. / It’s all HIS stage. / He knows my name.”

“He Knows My Name” — Francesca Battistelli

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Moving onto the next two-year chunk of my academic career.

I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life processing everything I’ve been exposed to through the Religion Department. I’m so thankful for the resources I’ve been given to help me understand others’ religious orientations and to grow in my understanding of my own faith. Resources I am particularly grateful for include a ten-volume set of biblical commentaries and an online biblical language software program: My nerdy heart is rejoicing.

The award that coincided with the gift of commentaries is by far the most meaningful award I have ever received. As a former professor gave an introduction to this award, he shared that one particular research paper I wrote for his class taught him a lot. It was my paper on the theology of disability.

One specific experience at Samford, which I can still visualize, prompted me to direct my research in this area. This one particular instance of a regular occurrence for Samford students altered the direction of my future career. I simply approached the doors of the University Center.

What made this experience so unique was my inability to open the heavy doors. This event occurred in the spring semester of 2017, which was the period when I spent the entire semester recovering from shoulder surgery. At this point, I still had not gained back enough strength to use that arm to support any weight. About a week leading up to this event, I had injured my other arm….doing laundry. After a partial dislocation, the arm that was supposed to be my “good arm” was conspicuously swollen all the way down my bicep, which–I came to understand–is an essential muscle to doing basically everything. Especially opening doors.

As I approached these heavy doors without a functioning arm, I stopped and just stood there, hoping someone would come out the same door and hold it open for me. No one did. I felt completely helpless. I felt inferior to those who didn’t have to think twice about walking through a door. I felt like I didn’t fit the mold of normal-functioning college students that my university expected me to fit–and I didn’t.

My experience of attempting to function at a less-than-optimal level allowed me to empathize with those who live with more long-term disabilities. My experience of encountering doors that were too heavy to open on my own led me to find open doors elsewhere–one of which, I believe, leads to disability advocacy. I would not have discovered my passion for disability advocacy had I not felt feelings of hopelessness at the weight of the closed and heavy door at Samford.

“Anybody who thinks that closed doors disprove the efficacy of prayer just has not thought about prayer very deeply. Prayer is not an incantation. It is talk with a Person–a very wise Person.” -John Ortberg

This literal closed door and the figuratively closed doors I’ve encountered in my time at Samford has forced me to rely on the One who cares enough for me to open doors and invite me to meet with Him (Revelation 3:20).

I’m leaving Samford a different person than when I first arrived. I’m leaving with scars I didn’t have before. My Samford scars.

I’m leaving with the knowledge that circumstances I once considered random happenstance (i.e. scoliosis + hand pain + foot pain) are, in fact, connected. I’m leaving wth the knowledge that my connective tissue is suspended by a faulty collagen matrix. I’m leaving with the knowledge that this collagen matrix is coded for, like every other protein, in my DNA–the formation of which began my very existence. I’m leaving with the knowledge that no injury I have endured or will endure is by accident. I’m leaving with the knowledge that my Creator knew the extent to which I would and will suffer.

And sometimes this knowledge has been difficult to process. Ecclesiastes 1:18 says, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” Increase in knowledge has intensified my need to draw near to the Lord in my confusion. As I mentioned before, I plan on processing what I’ve learned over the past four years for the rest of my life.

I’m utterly and sincerely grateful for my time at Samford, which unexpectedly grew my appreciation for life outside of Samford. I’m grateful for my time spent in “The Bubble,” which made me passionate to form relationships with those outside “The Bubble”–those who don’t look like me, come from a different socioeconomic background than me, and did not have the same educational experience as me. My privilege of spending four years studying in “The Bubble” opened the door for me to work at a local nonprofit that provides resources for adults seeking their GED to improve their chances of obtaining steady jobs. The privilege that I have encountered and benefited from during my time at Samford has made me determined to both serve and build relationships with those who were not offered this same privilege.

During Commencement, I choose not to worship the institution that God used to make me who I am today. Instead, I choose to glorify my gracious God who has worked through selfless people of this university, and the surrounding community, to instruct, guide, and walk beside me over the past four years.

“Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say,
‘Never once did we ever walk alone.’
Carried by Your constant grace,
Held within Your perfect peace,
Never once, no, we never walk alone.”

“Never Once” — Matt Redman

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📷: Kyle Thompson Photography

My Not-Samford Story

With graduation approaching, I’m frequently asked what my future plans are. Not everything is completely worked out yet, but this post is an attempt to explain at least one decision I’ve arrived at.

Especially now that we’re in the second half of my last semester, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned in my time at Samford. To be honest, my transcript actually makes me laugh; the word “eclectic” comes to mind. Although my transcript demonstrates the broad scope of instruction I have received, it does not represent all that I have learned in the past four years.

Things I Have Learned That Are Not on my Transcript

  1. How to be ambidextrous. I’ve learned how to adapt–in some occasions, seamlessly–to physical challenges that arise unexpectedly. Before coming to Samford, I had only dealt with chronic pain in one joint. By the end of today, I will have applied some form of preventative care or treatment to five joints (and also my spine). But today’s a pretty normal day. I’ve had to adopt a new framework for normalcy. Not gonna lie, I am pretty proud of my ability to start off this semester ambidextrous after hand surgery.
  2. How to advocate for myself in a doctor’s office. At the beginning of my Samford career, I had probably reached a level of comfort in doctors’ offices. But especially in the past few months, I’ve gained the confidence to approach my medical professionals–who have completed many more years of schooling than I have–and tell them what I need. For instance, soon after surgery on my right hand, the instability in my left hand increased drastically. While my brilliant surgeon was focused on getting my right hand fully recovered, I had to speak up for myself and ask for a physical therapy script for my left hand. Because I advocated for myself, and because of my wonderfully competent physical therapist, the stability in my left hand has returned. I was able to identify what I needed because I’ve learned…
  3. How to listen to my body. I took an Anatomy & Physiology class last summer. Probably the most useful concept I learned was that of proprioception. This is a term for awareness of body positioning. Within the past few months, I truly felt that I could tell where my most unstable joints were at all times; I was able to sense when they were on the verge of dislocating and able to prevent full dislocations by activating specific muscles. As of right now, I can’t verbally explain the specifics of this process (or which muscles I’m activating at particular times), but I have some sort of grasp on the concept. I am now more attune to all of my skeletal muscles, and I pay special attention to muscles experiencing fatigue. When I catch this fatigue early on, I can prevent further injury.
  4. How to walk with friends through mental illness. Changing topics (and not revealing specifics): Samford is a very difficult environment to struggle with mental illness. “The Bubble” can become intoxicating when people expect you to at least act like you have your life together. I’ve witnessed the harm that people experience from overexposure to the filters we often place on our lives, our attempts to hide our struggles. I’ve had the privilege of sitting beside friends who were not okay and telling them, “It’s okay to not be okay.” I’ve learned the value of an assuring, non-judgmental presence.
  5. How to recognize my limitations. In light of these scenarios, I’ve also hit certain points when I realized that I was not the right person to be dealing with a situation. Just as I’ve learned to recognize when my muscles have been pushed too far, I’m beginning to realize when I’m being stretched too thin, emotionally. I’ve begun to learn the value of setting healthy boundaries and recognizing the need to refer people to professional help. Although one friendship has been lost through boundary setting, all others have grown much deeper as a result.
  6. How to recognize my purpose. Speaking of lost friendships, I did lose another friend who struggled with mental illness, and sadly we lost this friend to suicide. This tragedy brought about the element of emotional maturation that was most needed–the realization that I am not the only human being on the planet who experiences pain. To this day, I distinctly remember the sound of this friend’s loved ones expressing the pain they felt at her loss. That was the day I realized that this world is bigger than me and the pain I feel. As horrific as her death was to all those who were privileged to know her in this lifetime, it motivated me to listen for the similar sound of others hurting.
  7. How to grieve. After I witnessed the grief of this friend’s loved ones, I both witnessed and experienced grief over both of my dad’s parents. Soon after, I had reason to grieve the loss of my ability to perform music. I also grieved over my change of major and the friendships I had established within the Division of Music. I spent all of my junior year grieving these things. And I’ve learned that grief was justifiable and necessary before fully embracing my place in the Religion Department. (More on that in a later post.)
  8. How to organize my life so that I feel like I have some control. I’ve learned tactics to help me stay on top of physical and emotional pain. For instance, I’ve decided to set my limit on physical therapy time (outside of the clinic) to about 35 minutes–the length of a playlist I made to accompany my exercises. This playlist consists only of worship songs that help me center my life on the grace of God, as I try to center my joints. Multitasking by addressing physical and spiritual needs at the same time has been truly effective.
  9. How to relate to people through vulnerability. The concept of being vulnerable about my struggles is now fairly second nature to me, outside of the workplace. (Vulnerability has its appropriate settings–also more on that in a later post.) Vulnerability has opened the door to so many deep friendships that I cherish. It’s so freeing to not feel the need to fake my way into friendships. Vulnerability before God has also had countless benefits.

Ecclesiastes 3 (ESV)

A Time for Everything

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

The God-Given Task

What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.

From Dust to Dust

16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?

With all of these things in mind, I’m happy to report one way in which God is redeeming the journey I’ve been on for the past four years. With all of these life lessons learned outside the classroom setting, it’s time to advance my knowledge in these areas inside the classroom. That classroom is found at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In the fall, I will begin their Master of Clinical/Medical Social Work program, with the hopes of working in both medical (hospital) settings and private clinical practice, in the long-term.

I included the entire chapter of Ecclesiastes 3 because I’ve often quoted verse 11 by itself. In context, I appreciate it even more. God has made my periods of mourning and healing and weeping and laughing and silence and vulnerability beautiful by providing purpose, although I cannot fathom what marvelous plans He has had in store for me from beginning to end. With this in mind, “All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” I am only one person in this world God has created. I am only one person whose influence is limited to this brief lifetime. Everything I have gone through and everything I might ever do will hold no significance at the end of my life; the glory of the LORD will outlast me.

So, as Qoheleth suggests, I’m pursuing a career path that I believe I will enjoy in my brief lifetime. My Health Psychology class this semester is probably the closest I will come to encountering my graduate school courses before beginning grad school, and I am utterly fascinated by the course content. (If you didn’t know already, I’m a nerd.) And I hope to apply what I learn in grad school to provide mental health services to those facing new physical challenges, which, I believe, will also bring fulfillment to me. My not-Samford story will equip me to glorify the Author of this story I could never come up with on my own–I’m not that creative.

Even When

Good Friday: The day we remember the depths to which our sovereign God stooped to rescue us.

The day when grief has its place in the church.

The day when silence has the last word.

Today I attended a Good Friday service for the first time in several years. The uniqueness of this day in Holy Week was evident in the uniqueness of this service. For one thing, Emily the musician noticed that all songs, except one, remained in a minor key throughout, which set up the appropriate sombre mood. Emily the introvert appreciated the scheduled periods of silence, which allowed the congregation to contemplate the gravity of Jesus’ crucifixion. (I love it when I’m given the space to think in the context of the church.)

This contemplation led me to a question: Would followers of Jesus have been able to worship the Father on the day of Jesus’ death, as they witnessed what seemed to be His defeat?

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During the service, the choir sang the lyrics of a poem found on a cell wall in a Nazi concentration camp:

I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.

I believe in love, even when I feel it not.

I believe in God, even when He is silent.

I was fascinated by the use of this poem, composed in the midst of a bleak situation, to represent the sense that the Father had abandoned. A sensation with which I am familiar.

My current overall medical condition is good. I feel like I am in a place where I can manage symptoms that may arise. But a few weeks ago, I didn’t feel like my symptoms were manageable.

I had anywhere from six to eight dislocations of my right shoulder over the span of a week and a half. I never fully recovered from the first dislocation before the next ones occurred, so my muscles weren’t exactly working for me.

At the same time, I had reached near the end of surgery recovery for my hand. I was conflicted; I wanted to rejoice at my progress on one joint and mourn the temporary regression on another joint. I wanted to praise God as my Healer, yet I was simultaneously not feeling healed. There was a disconnect between what I wanted to believe and what I truly felt.

I love that Matthew and Mark report Jesus’ question on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34). According to these passages, Jesus also experienced the disconnect between His understanding of the Father and what He truly felt.

He was obedient to the Father’s will, even when He felt abandoned.

How does the cross enable me to do the same?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

The psalm typically associated with mourning death provides the key to renewed life.

He restores my soul.

If restoring is bringing back to an original state, the stability of my hands has been restored. How does God restore my soul?

By bringing me back to my soul’s original state–as it would be in the Garden of Eden.

He takes me back to the place where guilt and shame have not yet corrupted my soul.

He takes me back to the place where I don’t feel the need to work for my salvation.

He takes me back to the place where pain does not run rampant throughout the world.

Because of the cross, because of Good Friday, my sin has been paid for, and my soul has been restored.

 

I believe in my Healer, even when I don’t feel healed.