The Hope for Health Care

You may have heard about a little, low key health care bill that Republicans tried to pass in the Senate. And there’s a pretty good chance that if you have, you’ve heard some half-truths or blatant lies.

Right now you might be thinking, “Wow Mary-Faith, I thought you were a conservative! How could you be saying something like this about a Republican bill?”

To answer your shocked question, I consider myself to be a conservative-leaning independent. I am not tied down to any political party, and I do not particularly support one. But more than that, I have chronic illnesses. I am a walking, talking preexisting condition. Health care and insurance are big deals to me.

Politics. Isn’t. Everything. Yes, I of all people said that. Let it sink in. Our Founding Fathers didn’t really want politics (or pretty much anything) to happen this way, but that’s a story for another day.

I have emailed my senators. I received responses I was not satisfied with. To be honest, I’m not quite sure either of them even read what I had to say. My leaders that were elected to represent me did not listen to me. They chose their party. And that choice has weighed heavily on me ever since it came to light for me.

The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is messed up. But it is saving lives. It is providing Medicaid to those who desperately need health coverage. It is providing Medicare to the elderly. It is working for those with preexisting conditions. And this new bill will change that drastically, if not take it away completely.

That is not okay with me.

This is not about me. Yes, I am concerned about what could happen to my coverage. I am more concerned about people who have life-threatening diseases, who cannot work because of their illness, who could lose everything – including their lives.

So Republican senators, I am begging you to listen to us. I am begging you to consider your life on this new health care plan instead of on your over-the-top-with-protection government coverage plan. Picture yourself living like your constituents. Picture yourself living the lives of the “little people.” And if that doesn’t affect you, picture what could happen to your party at midterm elections. Think of the political repercussions passing a bad bill could have.

Think of people like me, who pay thousands of dollars in medical bills, even with insurance coverage. We are counting on you. We depend on you.

To Senators Rand Paul, Susan Collins, Mike Lee, and Jerry Moran, thank you for killing the Senate’s first attempt at this bill before there was even a vote. Thank you for taking step one. But now we need step two. We need the entire senate – not just Republicans – to come together and build and work and plan. We need bipartisan creation of a bill that will work for everyone. Because how can something work for everyone when half of the Senate is shut out? How can people’s actual lives be worth partisan wins and gloating? That should not even be a question that I have to ask.

So, senators, as you work to repeal and replace Obamacare, a plan that seemed to be failing completely until you actually introduced something just as bad if not worse, don’t think about your party or proving how much better you are than your colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Think about the people who put you in office – the same people whose support for you may be quickly waning.

My Spring Favorites

Summer is now officially upon us. While it seems that everyone loves summer, there is definitely something special about spring, when everything that had died comes back to life (and when it is not yet 100 degrees outside). Before I jump fully into summer, I thought I would share a few of my favorite things from spring.

spring faves

Movies & TV //

  • Hidden Figures: I first saw Hidden Figures in theaters for my birthday, and I fell instantly in love. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae do a fantastic job portraying Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, three female African-American NASA employees who did nothing short of change the world. As a woman, I feel so grateful for what these three women did and the sacrifices they made.
  • Beauty & the Beast: Does this even require an explanation? The original has always been one of my favorite movies, but the remake certainly outdoes it. Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle was perfect, and I love the closer focus on Belle’s intelligence during a time when this was not welcome in women.
  • Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them: I am, and always will be, the biggest Harry Potter fan. This movie was a great addition to the magical world without trying too hard (*cough* Cursed Child *cough*). Also, Newt Scamander is basically the most adorable character ever.
  • Downton Abbey: Yes, I have finally fallen into the inescapable hole that is Downton Abbey. The story, the characters, the history – I love it all. Obsessed is a strong word, but I might be at that level. I just finished the entire show, and I’m still trying to recover.

Beauty //

  • Essence Pure Nude Highlighter: I have just gotten into highlighting in the past few months (what was I doing with my life before?), and this one is by far the best that I’ve used. It’s not over-the-top, but it definitely leaves a visible sheen. In my opinion, it’s perfect.
  • Maybelline The Colossal Big Shot Mascara: I am a mascara junkie. I’ve tried all the drugstore classics, and a few high-end favorites as well. This is definitely the best mascara I have ever used. It adds the perfect amount of volume and length, without one over-powering the other. It is certainly not for the faint of heart, though – this is definitely a false lash look.
  • CoverGirl Oh Sugar! Lip Balm: This stuff beats every other tinted lip balm I have ever tried (and I have tried quite a few). I love keeping the shade “Candy” in my purse for when I need some moisture, and using the shade “Punch” for when I want a wash of color.
  • L’Oreal Infallible Pro-Glow Foundation: My skin tends to lean in the combo/oily direction, so luminous foundations scare me. But, I decided to give this one a try before it got too hot, and I love it. I definitely won’t be able to keep using it through the summer, but it’s perfect for the cooler months.
  • Smashbox Always On Liquid Lipstick in “Stepping Out”: I got this in one of those Sephora favorites kits, and I’m obsessed. I never would have thought that I would like this color on myself, but I do. With my complexion, it looks like a nude with a mix of rusty orange.
  • Colourpop Lippie Stix in “Lumiere”: I had had my eye on this shade for a while, but I was hesitant to purchase it because I rarely wear cool-toned lip colors. But once I finally got this shade and started wearing it, it was like I had been missing it my whole life. Seriously.
  • Bath & Body Works Bonjour Paris Lotion: I honestly have no words for this lotion. It’s a newer release from B&BW, and I have to say, they are killing it with their new products. This scent (a little floral, but not too much) is everything.

spring swatches

Books //

  • Girl Defined by Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird: This is a Christian nonfiction book that features the tagline “God’s radical design for beauty, femininity, and identity.” I am very picky about the Christian nonfiction books I read, and I didn’t agree with every single thing that sisters (and bloggers) Kristen and Bethany wrote in this book, but I still loved it. It was perfect for my done-with-modern-feminism heart.
  • Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth: This is my favorite book I have read so far this year. Basically, it’s a dystopian about two warring peoples. But that’s not the reason I loved this book. One of the main characters, Cyra, deals with chronic pain, and has been severely psychologically affected by it. I have never read a book that features a main character with a chronic illness before, and I think Veronica Roth handled it perfectly.
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: It will come as no surprise that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. This book, which focuses on the rarely-discussed labor camps created during World War II not by Hitler, but by Stalin, is incredibly moving. I cannot recommend it enough.

Quotes & Scriptures //

  • “Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ.” – Sheila Walsh
  • “But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest ye haply be found even to fight against God.” – Acts 5:39
  • “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” – Romans 12:2
  • “…and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14
  • “If you feel a little overwhelmed, take that as a good sign. It indicates that you can sense the magnitude of the trust God has placed in you.” – Henry B. Eyring

Songs //

  • “Every Little Thing” by Carly Pearce
  • “Better Man” by Little Big Town
  • “Magnify” by We are Messengers
  • “Road Less Traveled” by Lauren Alaina
  • “Out of Hiding” by Steffany Gretzinger
  • “May We All” by Florida Georgia Line & Tim McGraw
  • “The Cause of Christ” by Kari Jobe
  • “In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young
  • “Beauty & the Beast” by John Legend & Ariana Grande
  • “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran
  • “Once” by Maren Morris
  • “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga
  • “Back to God” by Reba McEntire & Lauren Daigle

So, there you have it – my favorite things from spring 2017! Let me know what you were loving last season, and whether or not we share any favorites, in the comments below.

The Liebster Award

liebster

This week I have been lucky enough to be nominated by three other sweet and talented bloggers for the Liebster Award. This is an award given to bloggers by other bloggers. This is such a great way to create a sense of community and spread friendship amongst bloggers, and I am honored to be a part of this!

The rules for the Liebster Award are:

  1. You can choose to either accept or decline. Accepting means writing a post, which you don’t have to do, but it helps to continue spreading the love!
  2. Write a list of 11 facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions from your nominator.
  4. Nominate 11 other bloggers to keep the award going, and give them 11 questions to answer.

11 Facts About Me:

  1. I have been doing online school/classes for years now, and I absolutely love it.
  2. I listen to pretty much every genre of music (seriously), but my favorites are Christian, country, and alternative.
  3. I was almost attacked by a dog when I was a toddler. I am now afraid of dogs.
  4. Being an aunt is one of my favorite things ever.
  5. I love the British royal family. Kate is literal goals, and Harry is my mental health hero.
  6. I have seen my favorite band, Needtobreathe, in concert every year since I was a freshman in high school.
  7. I am a huge beauty junkie, and I spend way too much time watching beauty vloggers on YouTube.
  8. Emma Watson is one of my heroes, and has been for years now.
  9. I love making playlists. And I do. A lot. (If you need a playlist for anything, hit me up.)
  10. My favorite politicians are Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Trey Gowdy, Rand Paul, Mia Love, Ben Sasse, and Tim Scott.
  11. I am very close with my family (immediate and extended), especially my cousins.

I’ve decided to answer the questions from all of the lovely ladies who nominated me. First up are Liu Mao’s questions:

  1. What is your middle name? I actually don’t have one! Since my first name has two parts, that’s all I’ve got.
  2. Favorite dessert? BROWNIES. I’m obsessed. It’s a problem.
  3. Favorite language? I’m obviously the most fluent in English, but I’ve been taking Spanish classes for three years now, and I love learning that language as well! Although my skills are still iffy, I hope to be fluent one day.
  4. Where were you born? I was born in South Carolina in the US of A.
  5. Favorite childhood TV show/movie? My favorite TV show when I was a kid was Caillou. I loved basically every Disney movie ever, but I think Monsters, Inc. was my favorite.
  6. Favorite international food? I love Italian food. Pasta is my life.
  7. What is your hobby/hobbies? Writing (obviously), reading (all the time), and keeping up with politics
  8. Are you an only child? I have two older half-sisters.
  9. Why did you start blogging? I have loved writing for as long as I can remember, and I hope to one day go into journalism, so I thought this would be good experience. I intended to focus mainly on politics on my blog since that is what I am interested in writing about one day as a journalist, but I have really felt Heavenly Father prompting me to use my talents to share my faith through blogging as well.
  10. What are you studying in college? English

Next up are Ally’s questions:

  1. What is your go-to order at a coffee shop? I don’t drink coffee, but I love a good coffee shop pastry.
  2. What city holds a special place in your heart, and why? Columbia, SC. My grandparents used to live there and I have so many great memories of being with my extended family there.
  3. What is one word that you’d like to engrave on the heart of your younger self? Wow. That is a loaded question. I think I’m going to have to go with “worthy.” I feel like I could have used the reminder to extend grace to myself and that I don’t have to beat myself up over every little thing and let my anxiety take control.
  4. What was the last brave thing you did? Probably writing my post regarding mental health. It was scary for me to be that vulnerable, especially since so few people knew about my battle with that.
  5. Do you prefer indoors or outdoors? Why? I am definitely an indoors kinda girl. I actually have really bad heat intolerance due to some of my health issues, but I’ve just never been a huge outdoors fan regardless.
  6. If you had $500 and only one day to spend it, what would you buy? I would like to think that I would spend most of the money on practical, necessary things, and spend some of it helping others, but I might have to throw a Kate Spade bag in there too.
  7. What is your favorite thing to cook? I love making enchiladas, and I literally use the recipe that is on the back of the El Paso enchilada sauce can. #skills
  8. If you could change your birthdate, would you? What date would you pick? I don’t think I would change it. I’m happy with where it’s at.
  9. Did you have an imaginary friend as a kid? YES. Her name was Kelly-Alex (I’m assuming I wanted to go with a double name since I have one). I’m pretty sure I decided that she lived in the backyard.
  10. How do you feel about spiders? I am terrified. Size is not a factor. They are all evil.
  11. What is your #1 book recommendation? For fiction, The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer. For nonfiction, Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst.

 

Finally, here are Cassie’s questions:

  1. What made you want to start blogging? Like I said above, I initially saw it as practice and skill-building for my future journalism career, but now I look at it as a way to share my faith as well.
  2. If money weren’t a factor, what would be your dream job? Is it possible to be a professional reader? Because I would totally go with that.
  3. Do you travel or are you more of a homebody? I like to travel, but I prefer to spend most of my time at home.
  4. Could you see yourself living in another state or possibly country in the future? I think living in another country would be too much of a change for me (plus I love America!), but I would be open to living in another state.
  5. What’s your motto? I’m kind of a quote collector, and I feel like my motto changes a lot, but one that I seem to stick with is “When I can’t, You always can” (from the song “What Love is This” by Kari Jobe).
  6. If you could eat dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? Why? My grandpa. He passed away in December and I miss him terribly.
  7. What place would you consider to be your “happy place?” Any where that I’m with my family (especially if it’s the whole extended family gathered together).
  8. Do you play any sports? No. I used to do gymnastics (for like six months), though. Does attempting to get on the treadmill count, though? Because sometimes I do that.
  9. What makes you unique? My positivity, in spite of the health challenges I have faced, and how I have let them shape me for the better.
  10. If you made a perfume, what would it be called? Grace (I think Philosophy may already have that one though…)
  11. Who would play you in a movie about your life? If my dreams could come true, it would be Selena Gomez. I mean, we kinda even look alike! (Not really, but I’m trying to make this work here.)

Now for the bloggers I nominate. I haven’t been blogging very long, so I haven’t had the chance to meet a ton of other bloggers, but I have interacted with some. I nominate:

  1. Kristin // https://kristenshane.com/
  2. Kelsea // https://kelseamoriah.wordpress.com/
  3. Rachel // https://rachelsrambles.com/
  4. Livi // https://liviburke.wordpress.com/
  5. Rebekah // https://rebekahblogs.com/
  6. Allie // https://wearenewromantics.wordpress.com/
  7. Lily // http://lovewyns.blogspot.com/
  8. Kristabel // https://kristabeldubois.wordpress.com/
  9. Kara // http://joybecausegrace.com/
  10. Taylor // https://taywords.com/
  11. Elizabeth // https://realismcom.wordpress.com/

And my questions for them:

  1. What is your favorite thing about blogging?
  2. Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook?
  3. If you could go back and change one thing about your life, such as a decision you made, would you? And what would it be?
  4. What is another culture that you would like to know more about?
  5. What charitable causes are you passionate about?
  6. What is your favorite holiday and why?
  7. Which one of Jesus’ characteristics (compassion, humility, etc.) means the most to you or has influenced you the most and why?
  8. What is the greatest gift God has given you?
  9. What is your favorite fairytale?
  10. How do you feel about vegetables?
  11. Who are some of your heroes and why?

Again, thank you so much Liu, Ally, and Cassie for nominating me! Be sure to check out their fantastic blogs (linked above) as well!

I Just Want a One-Piece

Swimsuit season is officially upon us. Some people love this time of year. Some people dread it. (And who can blame them?) But it comes every year, whether you like it or not.

Today I was in Target (shocking, I know), and as I wandered around picking up all the things I didn’t need, I found myself in the swimsuit section. (Target seems to be the one store that never runs low on swimsuits, no matter how late into the season it gets.) I passed through racks upon racks of bikinis. As I walked through the maze, I noticed that all of the tankinis and one-pieces had been relegated to the back and side walls. As I looked at them, I was instantly disappointed. The selection was slim. Few suits were available in a variety of sizes. Most of them were, quite honestly, what one might see an older lady wearing.

I personally only wear one-piece swimsuits. I know tankinis can be modest as well, but I just haven’t had the greatest experiences with them. If you wear bikinis, I am not trying to put you down at all. But for me, this is an issue of modesty. I do not feel comfortable showing so much of my body in a barely-there swimsuit, and I do not think that Heavenly Father wants me to.

So, why are there so few options for modest swimsuits? This is certainly a gap in the market that some brands are addressing. Companies such as Kortni Jeane, Called to Surf, and Jessica Rey sell modest swimwear – but the prices aren’t exactly affordable. Cashing in at sometimes more than one hundred dollars, these suits are a far cry from bikini tops and bottoms that typically are priced at around twenty dollars, and even the forty dollar one-pieces.

I am not trying to call Target out specifically, nor am I trying to focus solely on swimwear. This is a universal problem. We live in a society in which you can pretty much wear whatever you want, whenever you want. Celebrities walk the red carpet in next-to-nothing. Crop tops, short shorts, and dresses that barely skim the leg are on-trend. And female musicians that little girls look up to perform in ensembles that barely pass for clothing.

Yes, I am disappointed by society. But I am also shamed by it. There are few things more awkward than being the only one at the pool in a one-piece, or at the mall in capris. While I believe very strongly in the importance of modesty and how it relates to our virtue, it is still difficult to stand out in this way.

The world is not going to change overnight. Women’s wear trends will not shift because one person speaks up. But that does not change the way I feel. That does not change the fact that I have published this post. That does not change the fact that I felt that it was important to say something.

Perhaps you have heard that dressing modestly is important because it will help the boys around you keep their thoughts clean. And that’s great. Because after all, we are all just trying to help each other on this journey home. But I believe this goes deeper than that. Modesty is about you. It’s about you telling the world that you respect yourself and your God.

“Modesty isn’t about a list of rules. It’s about reflecting God’s holiness and purity through our clothing.”

– Girl Defined

Our bodies were created in the image of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. If Heavenly Father were to make you a gift of some sort and hand it to you, how would you treat it? Would you let it get dirty? Would you not pay attention to where you put it? Would you simply not care? I certainly hope your answer to these questions is no. Well, guess what? Our bodies are gifts from Heavenly Father, given especially to us. They are the best, most valuable gifts we will ever receive. Shouldn’t we all take care of them?

“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Did you catch that? Your body is not your own. It is God’s. He created it, and for all intensive purposes, He owns it. You were bought with a price, the price of His Son’s blood. So why would you just reveal your body like it’s nothing? Why would you not care?

Clothing may seem like a small thing. It’s just what you wear when you shop or you eat or you hang out with friends. But it’s more than that. It is telling the world what you think about yourself, and what you think about the God Who so lovingly crafted your body just for you. It is making a statement, whether you like it or not. So, what do you want yours to say?

“You can dress attractively without being immodest. Within the Lord’s guidelines, there is room for you to be lively, vibrant, and beautiful both in your dress and in your actions.”

– Thomas S. Monson

Mental Health Awareness Month

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

– Ernest Hemingway

This is one of my favorite quotes. It is one that I try to live by. It is one that I believe can be therapeutic when followed. It is one that I now see I need to follow more closely.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health is something that is close to my heart. Contributing to ending the stigma in some way is one of the greatest goals of my life. And because of that, I think there are some things that I need to say.

I have been dealing with depression and anxiety for about three years now. When I was first diagnosed, I was considered to be affected by what is known as “adjustment disorder” – which is essentially what occurs when something happens in your life that leads to mental health challenges. My adjustment disorder is thought to have come from my chronic physical health problems.

This is something that I do not talk about. Some of my family members and close friends do not know about this. But I think it’s something I need to talk about now. I often feel that staying silent is doing nothing but contributing to the stigma surrounding mental health. So who am I to not speak up?

If you have never experienced any mental health issues, let me do my best to explain this to you. Depression is not sadness. It is a deep hole of despair. It causes you to cry for no reason, to not want to leave the house, and to basically feel like doing nothing but sitting there staring into space. Anxiety is, in my opinion, just as bad. At its worst, it can be a constant feeling of panic. It causes you to second guess everything you say and do. You find yourself worrying to an irrational level about everything from final exams to what you are going to have for dinner. It causes panic attacks that can come out of nowhere. Although everyone experiences panic attacks differently, some common symptoms include shortness of breath, a racing heart rate, shaking, and an inability to think clearly.

I am not exaggerating. And I am not checking Google for definitions and symptoms. I am speaking from personal experience. This is all real. This is not in my head, or your head, or anyone’s head.

Over the past three years, I have come to better understand and cope with my mental illness to a certain degree. But I have not been “cured.” Every day is a battle, and a giant question mark. But I have come to know the ebb and flow of my brain’s strange impulses and deficiencies.

Perhaps that is why I am sitting here writing this. To tell you that there is hope, but it does not come if you don’t seek help. Without help, there is not hope. “Help” looks different for everyone who needs it. Maybe you need medicine. Maybe you need counseling. Maybe you need holistic treatment. But whatever it may be, please, please seek it and get it. This is nothing to be ashamed of. There is no shame in going to the doctor when you break your arm or have the flu. This is no different.

“Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed.”

– Jeffrey R. Holland

The brain is an organ, and a very complex one at that. Just as one may experience a problem with their heart, or lungs, or liver, so can one experience problems with their brain. One of the biggest problems with that is that the brain controls a lot. So if there is a problem with your brain, you may feel fatigued, and achy, and even have some problems with those other organs of yours. But this is a medical problem. You must understand that, whether you are going through this or not.

“Depression is a flaw in chemistry, not character.”

– Unknown

So, now that you know that having a problem with your brain is perfectly normal and that you should always seek help for it, please understand one more thing: A problem with your mental health has absolutely nothing to do with your spirituality. Even if what you are going through makes it hard to feel the Holy Ghost, or pray, or read the scriptures, or go to church. Some of the times that I have felt the pure love and understanding of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ the most occurred when I first began dealing with depression and anxiety. They know what you are going through. When you cry, so do They. When you have a bad day, They hurt with you. They don’t want you to feel this way. But because of their perfect knowledge, They know that for whatever reason, it is necessary. They do not feel that your testimony is diminished, or that your level of spirituality has decreased. Neither should you.

“He will not always take your afflictions from you, but He will comfort and lead you with love through whatever storm you face.”

– Thomas S. Monson

Now, I would like to address those of you who have never dealt with any sort of mental health challenge. There is a second part to the above quote by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

“While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”

I know it is hard to understand something that you have not experienced, but please try. Ending the stigma will not just come from the willingness of those suffering to be more open. There must be a twofold solution. You are the second part. If you know someone who is going through something difficult with their mental health, please be kind. Please love them. And if you think you don’t know anyone in this situation, I can almost promise you that you do. You just don’t know it because that is the way they want it. That is why it is essential that we choose compassion in every situation, no matter what.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

– Plato

To all my mental health warriors out there, you are slaying the game. Getting up and living every day is a big deal. And I wish I could give you all big hugs and medals for it. But since I can’t, here are some things that have helped me through my own personal struggle:

Songs:

“Magnify” by We Are Messengers

“Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle

“Steady My Heart” by Kari Jobe

“Red Sea Road” by Ellie Holcomb

“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten

“Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells

“Bloom” by Grayson Reed

“Prince of Peace” by Hillsong United

“He Knows” by Jeremy Camp

“Hope in Front of Me” by Danny Gokey

“Warrior” by Demi Lovato

“Storms” by V. Rose

“Thy Will” by Hillary Scott

“Storyteller” by Morgan Harper Nichols and Jamie Grace

“I Have this Hope” by Tenth Avenue North (and basically every TAN song ever…trust me)

Qoutes:

“Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can” – Unknown

“The Lord doesn’t put us through this test just to give us a grade; He does it because the process will change us.” – Henry B. Eyring

“Don’t believe everything you think.” – Unknown

“In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you.” – Andrea Dykstra

“Do not fear. Fear is not of God.” – Al Carraway

“We cannot truly grasp the depth of our light, until we are shown our darkness.” – Danielle Doby

 

Also, this talk by Elder Holland is seriously the greatest thing ever. This video produced by the LDS Church, also featuring Elder Holland, is great as well.

 

“And here you are living / despite it all.”

– Rupi Kaur

Easter Every Day

I totally planned to write a post for Easter. But I had school work to do. And I had family come to visit. And I had health stuff. So it just didn’t happen.

As I was thinking about how bummed I was that I wouldn’t have an Easter post, I had an a-ha moment. During Christmas time, we hear a lot about the importance of keeping the Christmas spirit and continuing to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday all year. But nobody says that about Easter.

That’s kind of interesting when you think about it. Because really, we celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas. But Easter is when we celebrate the completion of what He came to earth to do. So why do we limit it to one day, or weekend, or week? Why do we not celebrate it all year?

“Easter,” or more specifically, Christ’s Atonement is something we should celebrate every minute of every day of every year. Because think about it: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to the earth as a human for one reason…you. He came to set an example for you. He came to feel your pain. He came to die for your sins. He came to rise again so you could do the same. He came to claim the victory over sin and death so you would never have to feel the effects of those things permanently. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). And He came for you.

Let’s break this down a little and discuss.

1. He came to set an example for you.

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Jesus was perfect. Everything He did was perfect. He never made a mistake or sinned in His entire life. How crazy is that? We mess up every day (every minute might be more accurate…), but He never did. Even when He was tempted by Satan to show His great power (Matthew 4:1-11). Think about that. We, as humans, place great value on power. We want as much of it as possible. Jesus had all of the power in the world. If you had that, wouldn’t you want to show it off? But instead, He said, “Get thee hence Satan.” (That has got to be the greatest response ever in history.) He showed us how to resist temptation, so we too can say, “Get thee hence Satan.”

Galatians 5:22-23 lists what are known as the “fruits of the spirit”: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Jesus exemplified all of these perfectly. Let’s take one of them and look at it: love. Jesus is the epitome of love. There are countless examples of Christ’s love and compassion in the scriptures, but one of my favorites is the account of the woman caught in adultery, found in John 8:3-11. The Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. According to the Law of Moses, the woman should be stoned. Obviously, these religious leaders were testing Jesus to see what He would do. So, what did He do? He turned to the leaders and said that whichever one of them was sinless could cast the first stone. This is probably about the time that the Scribes and Pharisees all looked at each other thinking, “Oh snap.” Obviously, none of them were sinless. So none of them could cast the first stone. The only person there who was completely sinless was Christ Himself. But he did not stone the woman. Instead He told her to “go and sin no more.” And that was that. Why should we judge and cast stones when Jesus didn’t? Why shouldn’t we love like He did? Why shouldn’t we do everything like He did?

2. He came to feel your pain.

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“Gethsemane, where Heaven met me.”

– “Oh the Power” by Kari Jobe

I don’t want to say I have a favorite part of Christ’s Atonement, because it doesn’t feel right. But I kind of do. And it was when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was the night before His crucifixion, the night that one of His own apostles would betray Him. He knew what was coming. My Sunday School teacher really put this moment into perspective for me. She said to think about every moment you’ve ever had when you’ve been nervous or scared about something and had that knot form in your stomach. Maybe you were nervous about a speech, or a test, or something like that. Imagine what that feeling would be like for someone who was about to endure torture and murder. Imagine what it felt like for Him.

We don’t have to rely completely on our imagination for this. In Matthew 8:37, it says that Jesus “began to be sorrowful and very heavy.” In verse 38, Jesus says, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” It was during this time that Jesus felt what it was like to be utterly and completely alone. The Father withdrew His spirit from Him. His disciples fell asleep despite Him asking them to stay awake with Him. So, what did He do? He prayed.

“And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

– Matthew 26:39

 It was at this point that He felt all of the pain every person would ever experience – the pain of sin and shame, physical and emotional pain, everything. The pain was so intense that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). It hurts to know that my pain was part of the agony that Christ felt. But because He felt all of my pain, I know that He understands me perfectly. He knows what it is like to go through what I am going through.

“Because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so.”

– Jeffrey R. Holland

 3. He came to die for your sins.

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After Jesus’ night in the Garden and subsequent betrayal by Judas Iscariot, it was the day of His crucifixion. It was traditional that one criminal being held would be released on the Feast of the Passover. And so Jesus and Barabbas, a murderer, were brought before the people. Not only did they chose Barabbas, they chose how Jesus would die: crucifixion (Luke 23:17-21).

I’m sure you know the story from here: Jesus was mocked and tortured by the Roman soldiers, then nailed to a cross. Historians say that this is indeed a most painful way to die. Think about it (or maybe don’t…it’s kind of terrifying). But He did it anyway.

“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst….When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.”

– John 19:28, 30

When Jesus said “it is finished,” He was not just referring to His crucifixion. He meant death was finished. Pain was finished. Sin was finished. Everything can be finished for you if you follow Him.

“The cross meant to kill is my victory”

– “My Victory” by Crowder

 I don’t know about you, but I think that took a whole lot of love.

“He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew the source of those sins was you and since He couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, He chose the nails.”

– Max Lucado

 4. He came to rise again so you could do the same.

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For two days, the world was a pretty dark place. The Son of God had been killed. Hope seemed lost. But there was a bigger plan in store.

“The ground began to shake / The stone was rolled away / His perfect love could not be overcome / Now, death, where is your sting? / Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated”

– “Forever” by Kari Jobe

 Yes, Jesus defied the laws of basically everything and rose to life again. And because He did, so will you. We will all be resurrected. We will not have to taste death permanently. We will see loved ones who have passed on again. His victory will become ours.

“…the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.”

– 2 Nephi 2:8

 How incredible is that? Because Jesus was resurrected and rose from the dead, so will we. This life is not the end. Far from it. We will continue to live into the eternities, because of Him.

“The resurrected King is resurrecting me.”

– “Resurrecting” by Elevation Worship

But the story doesn’t end there. We can’t just say, “Ok, cool,” and continue on with life as if nothing happened. Because something did happen. Something huge. And it happened for you. We can’t set Jesus’ sacrifice on a shelf and forget about it or only think about it when we feel like it or when it’s convenient when it happened for and because of us. Your Heavenly Father, the God of the universe, sent His only begotten Son to this earth for you, and for me. That deserves all of the attention, gratitude, and praise our little mortal hearts can muster.

Before He ascended to Heaven, Jesus left His disciples with one final set of instructions: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

So, are you one of His disciples? Will you heed His command? Will you take up your cross and follow Him? The choice is yours. But after all He’s done for me, it seems a small price to pay.

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My Vanderbilt Visit

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What do you do when you have all of your hopes riding on one person? I guess that’s really not fair, is it? To put your dependence on an imperfect human being who is just trying to do their job. But we do it every day. Some times more than others.

Last week I went to Nashville, Tennessee. It was great. I loved it. I was a total tourist. I saw every country music-related site in existence. I had the best time. But I did not go there to sight-see, or to take a picture with Taylor Swift’s exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I never would have gone to Nashville were it not for the Autonomic Dysfunction Center at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

As I have mentioned before, I have a chronic illness known as POTS (short for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome). POTS is a form of dysautonomia (or autonomic dysfunction). Dysautonomia refers to a group of diseases that cause your autonomic nervous system to function improperly. Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for all of the bodily functions you don’t have to think about, like breathing and your heart beating. It causes symptoms that include an increase in heart rate (especially upon standing), severe fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion (or, as many refer to it, “brain fog”), dizziness, nausea, and migraines. This is not the only chronic illness I have, but it is by far the most intense and pervasive. These past few years since I first began dealing with POTS have been life-changing.

My dear cardiologist, who is absolutely amazing and by far the most knowledgeable physician on POTS in the area, has tried everything she can to help me. She has put me on every treatment, from prescription medicine to exercise regimens to compression hose to IV infusions. She recently told me that I have reached the maximum treatment level and that there is really nothing additional she can do for me. She suggested I give Vanderbilt a try, as several of her POTS patients have had success there and it is really the best place to go for any sort of autonomic issue in the southeast.

I was not excited to go to Vanderbilt, even though it meant a trip to Nashville and the possibility of more answers and treatment options. Perhaps I was experiencing a bit of foreshadowing.

Before my actual appointment with one of the Vanderbilt physicians, I would be doing testing to confirm my diagnosis and make sure that there was nothing else going on. For this testing to be accurate, I had to be off of most of my medications for three days prior to the appointment. I also had to skip an IV infusion. I was, to be quite honest, terrified of what this might bring, but I had no idea. For three days I had the full experience of POTS – untreated and unbridled. It was miserable. I could not stand for more than a few minutes without feeling extremely dizzy. I experienced intense nausea and fatigue. I was a mess. But I was a hopeful mess.

It became pretty clear after arriving at Vanderbilt that this would be an interesting visit. After signing in and taking a seat in the waiting room, we waited. And waited. Then I was registered at one of the desks in the waiting room. And then we waited some more. Finally, a nurse came to get me for my testing. Before the testing began, I was hooked up to two blood pressure monitors, an oxygen monitor, and an EKG (heart monitor) machine. After being told to relax (what great advice), I underwent the first test. My heart rate and blood pressure were monitored while I breathed in deeply for five seconds, then out for five seconds, over the course of one minute. This probably doesn’t sound like much, but for someone who lives with dizziness and shortness of breath on a daily basis, it was definitely uncomfortable. (Who knew a minute could last for so long?)

The next stage of testing, known as the Valsalva, consisted of me blowing continuously into a syringe for around 20 seconds. (Yes, this is just as bizarre as it sounds.) I was dreading this part of the testing. I have done similar, less intensive, testing at my allergist’s office multiple times before – and I usually fail. The nurse had told me that I would only do the Valsalva twice, unless my first two attempts were, for lack of a better term, not good enough. I was not surprised when she asked me to repeat the test a third time.

I was actually somewhat excited for the third and final portion of my testing – the tilt table. The tilt table is a bit infamous amongst dysautonomia patients, but its effects can be easily mimicked without using an actual tilt table. This was not this first time I had undergone this type of test, but it was the first time I got to do it with an actual tilt table. I was strapped onto a table-bed hybrid and then titled into the upright position. This is about ten times more disconcerting than it sounds. I have heard horror stories about tilt tables. Even if you survive being tilted upward, many patients cannot remain that way for the required length of time. I was to do everything within my power to remain upright (while still strapped to the table, just in case I passed out) for ten minutes. Perhaps not lasting the full ten minutes would have helped my case and showed how sick I really am. But I was determined. I was going to get through those ten minutes if it killed me. And I did (no death involved).

At the conclusion of my testing, I was sent back to the waiting room, where my parents and I waited for a while before I was taken back to an examination room. Before seeing the doctor, we saw a fellow (a step up from a medical resident – basically a medical student on the cusp of graduation) who went through my history with me. He questioned me very thoroughly about my past history of passing out to make sure there was nothing else going awry neurologically. He then performed my physical examination, which I have experienced so many times in my neurologist’s office that I could probably do it without instruction by now – walk in a straight line, touch my finger and then my nose, hold my arms out and don’t let him push them down. There were a few interesting new inclusions, such as having to remember the phrase “bad baby blue” over a period of several minutes and being poked with a safety pin to test my nerves. The fellow also informed us that my Valsalva testing was abnormal and that my heart rate increased by nearly fifty points during my tilt table testing (a POTS diagnosis typically requires an increase of thirty).

At this point, the brunt of my appointment was over. All that was left was the doctor coming in and confirming what I somehow knew all along: there is nothing else she can do. My local doctors are doing a fantastic job treating me. Maybe someday my POTS will get better, and maybe it won’t. She did have some interesting thoughts regarding whether POTS could potentially be an autoimmune disease (or at least related to the autoimmune system). But there were no answers. No magic pills. Just a confirmation of my diagnosis and that my treatment plan is the best that there is.

So I smiled at the doctor and the fellow. I thanked them. I said goodbye. And I walked down the hallway in tears. I drove almost six hours to find nothing new. Why did I even try?

Perhaps the better question could be why did I put all of my faith in this single individual? Why did I let my hope rest in an imperfect human? Why did I trust that my deepest and most desperately searched for answers could come from anyone other than my Heavenly Father?

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

– Proverbs 3:5

Throughout the trials I have experienced from my health in my life, I have often felt that my answer is that there is not one. That He wants me here, in the midst of this pain, for a reason. I do not understand that reason, and perhaps I never will until I see Him again. But that is okay. As long as I trust Him and not my imperfect, hopelessly human self, I will be fine.

I cannot count the tender mercies He has given me. I see them every day. And I saw them after what I felt was a failed appointment. In that moment of bitter disappointment, Heavenly Father sent me four angels in the form of two sweet older couples waiting to check out along with us. All of them wished me well and told me I was too young to be sick. All of them put a smile on a face that had just seconds before felt tears.

He knows what we need, when we need it.

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me…for when I am weak, then am I strong”

– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

No, I did not get the answer I wanted (or really any answer for that matter). But I heard a specialist tell me that I am not crazy. That there are a lot of people experiencing the exact same thing that I am, even if I don’t see them. Even if I feel alone. I gained new confidence in my team of doctors treating me locally. And I learned to trust just a little bit more.

“When fear comes knocking, there You’ll be my guard / When day breeds trouble, there You’ll hold my heart / Come storm or battle, God I know Your peace will meet me there”

– “Prince of Peace” by Hillsong United