A disassembling brain.

When I was a kid in the late 90's, "The Brain" to me was the nickname of a smart, grey sweater-wearing bear from Arthur. Remember that TV series?

Fast forward and the brain I now know is housed under my skull, not in Elwood City. Lately, it seems that organ is in hiding. Stress is usually the trigger—even good stress is enough for the onset of a flare up. So, cognitive functions lag again. This affects my verbal fluency, short-term memory, and ability to process information or problem-solve. It's like thinking through black carbon.

I hold no background in neurology but research tells me what Lyme can do to the brain. Damage is possible and decline, in some ways, has already come.

Several times a week for the last several weeks, I've prepared to write. I'd sit down, open a blank page like usual, ready to share about spring and summer happenings. Over and over again I'd try to form sentences around these recent events but then, there it would go—my brain running off somewhere unseen, bringing the writing process to a reluctant end. I'd close the laptop and then my eyes, crying out to God for his comfort and truth. 

Loss rearranges us. Once provision, health, or people slip away, there's finally an admission of what we've taken for granted. Loss upends control, jolts priorities into place, and reveals the value of what's been near us all along. I surely didn't appreciate my brain until it began disassembling. Perhaps this sounds familiar.

Yes, there's neuroplasticity and treatment and if those don't work, there's also the promise of a redeemed body to come. But if I'm honest, cognitive impairment in real-time feels alarming. My friends call certain experiences unforgettable and yet, I cannot will my brain into remembering along with them. It's beyond my control. As memories lose vibrancy and words fall off their proper shelves, I'm tempted to hide my weakness. If I can't wow others, I immediately self-protect. Seven years into illness and I wonder, can I trust my Creator has good purposed for me? I've been afraid to let go of my pride and control—prizing fond memories, intellect, and others' perceptions over my Jesus. I still think I know what's best. 

Without God, these losses—memory or the like—would seem like an awful joke. But I'm not one without him or without hope. Instead, I have the Spirit of God living in me, untying me from fear and redirecting my affections to what matters. My brain might labor against bacteria, but guess what? This hollowing out creates more room for my Savior to step in and meet me. More awareness of him, more prayers to him, more love for him. When I experience Jesus and his unfailing love, I know I'm not empty-handed. And that, to me, is the true healing I need.

This post is dedicated to my friend Abby: Abs, thanks for believing me when I say it's been hard and for pushing me to write anyway. You help me call to mind God's faithfulness. In all my Dory moments, you never judge. Thank you.

Let's give hope away.

Disease has morphed my life into an arrangement of days and weeks and months which have been altogether strangely beautiful. Of course, I wouldn't have always called it that. During the first 5 years, I logged thousands of hours bed-bound and voiced a litany of nearly hopeless cries to God. Desperate for answers, for support, for understanding.

From late 2011 to early 2016, I believed physical healing was the best kind of reprieve available and if I did not receive it, something was wrong. Either my faith was not persistent enough or God heard every knock on the door and didn't hear or care. Right? If you're someone like me, you start repenting for anything you can think of, periodically checking your faith measurement levels. How was my belief today? Healing-worthy? I would constantly assess myself and think of ways I might gain more of his attention—as if then this God who was Creator and Healer would give me what I was sure I needed. When nothing changed after awhile, I started to think it was less to do with me. Maybe he just wasn't as kind or good as I'd been taught?

People in the church assumed a miracle in my body was my only need or request for prayer. I kept right on thinking God's highest form of wholeness and redemption for my brokenness would be physical healing. Many grace gifts were around me in those early years but I was too disappointed to see or enjoy them. I was like an angry guest, demanding an exchange or refund at the counter. This wasn't what I ordered. Take it back. My theology had only a toe-sized space for suffering.

I won't detail the winding road here, but it's important to note in December 2015, I'd received my long-awaited diagnosis and started treatment. For at least half a year, all efforts seemed futile and only costly. There was some visible improvement in 2016, but transformation was largely inward. Grief led to comfort, questions to peace, self-pity to empathy for others. Only God could bring such change, saving me from the rulings of disease and my personal quest for a pain-free life. I began to marvel at his great sovereignty though admittedly, it still freaks me out at times. I also began to know Jesus as the Man of Sorrows and it's his intimate care—his offering of hope for my soul—that gave me life again. Healing was happening inside, and it was the healing I didn't know I needed.

After 15 months of unemployment and being confined at home, I entered the job search and jumped into work I'd never done but felt suddenly and tremendously pulled to: working alongside people with disabilities. I had no work or volunteer related experience but what I had was my personal journey of chronic illness and the way it birthed empathy for those with disease and disability. My former boss took a chance on me and my struggling health. Her trepidations were made clear but her belief in what God could do were even clearer. It was there, amongst the students, I came alive.

When I moved to Georgia, leaving the school and students was probably the hardest. We'd shared so much together already, celebrating academic and therapeutic successes to processing life to having dance parties. Some were ambulatory while some used wheelchairs. Some were hilarious and some were sassy. Some loved computer games and some preferred music. Some communicated through devices and some used their gaze. All had primary diagnoses of physical disabilities and all bore the remarkable, wonderful image of God. I love them and yearn for them to live in a world set up to support them.

Most recently, I enrolled in a course to learn how to better reach families affected by disabilities. These individuals and families desire so many things aside from physical healing. Grace to endure. Funds for therapy and schooling and equipment. Healing from societal wounds. Vibrant relationships. Supportive communities. Less pat answers, more compassion and listening. Babysitting. Date nights. Shattered perceptions. Invitations to Bible studies and birthday parties and book clubs. Dignity. Opportunity. Value. Hope. Their voices are the ones I want to hear rising around me—especially from within the church. I want to give these families the right resources they need so they might flourish.

It excites me to be following God in the direction of disability ministry and I'd like to share an opportunity I'm beaming over with you. In June, around my 25th birthday, I'll be joining Hope Heals Camp for a week in Alabama to give Christ-centered resources, rest, and relationships to individuals and families with disabilities. Katherine and Jay Wolf have been faithfully pointing these families to hope out of their own suffering and this camp is another extension of their mission.

My application has been filled out for weeks but when I thought it was impossible I could go, I emailed the coordinator and told them I wouldn't be coming. But last night, God nudged me to move forward and at 10 pm I sent off an email again, asking if I still might be able to join...to which they said YES! 

I have a big ask and four days' time to make it happen. Honestly, I couldn't imagine a better gift for my 25th or a better way to spend it than in Nauvoo, Alabama with the campers. I need $600 by May 1st so I can serve and so we can pay for a family to attend for free! If you'd be willing to give, I would be so grateful. Many of you've encouraged me to keep persisting through the years, and I'd love to now come together and encourage others to do the same!

For the souls fastened to God forever, healing has already happened. Restoration for all things is coming. I have seen what hope can do and I am convinced—it really does heal and make whole. Let's see hope multiply. Let's give it away. 

My sunshine people.

Last weekend, sunshine visited me in the form of three precious humans: mom, sister, brother. We celebrated my mom's birthday and the pure-hearted, resolute woman she is while also becoming further acquainted with Atlanta. I played city guide for those 2.5 days which really means Yelp and my trusted friend named Garmin did their jobs. I'm still learning my way around but can find the important places like church and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams—both of which I enjoyed introducing to my family. We've moved a lot through the years but never lived in a bustling city like this one, so it was great fun seeing all Atlanta offers together.

Although the dining and art and shops here are excellent, the best moments were spent back at my house. Friday night we sat huddled on the floor, eating too many snacks and laughing till our notorious nonsense cascaded through the hallway. We've been through a hellacious year so to have enjoyed life and each other like that was God's kindness extended to us. I'd missed being in the same room with people who share my last name and history. First time introductions and small talk opportunities have abounded since moving, and I have grown weary. My family's company was refreshing. 

I cried as they pulled out from my driveway, headed south to the Sunshine State. I've cried at least three more times since and today as I write, the Peach State agrees in raindrops. These three—mom, sister, brother—pointed me back to the Father, in whom we all have a place and a family to belong. I am thankful this could even happen, knowing how pain has stung us four in swarms. Knowing betrayal, truth-twisting, and foolishness have wounded us and knowing we are capable of inflicting great hurt all the same. Yet here we are, still hanging on. I can look these three in their darling faces now and believe I don't have to fix or save or hold anything together for them. And that, for me, is growth. We've been hard pressed and struck down in this recent narrative, but our hope in Christ will not burn out. He beams brightly and clearly through these people...