My Chronic Illness Story

My Chronic Illness Story

I did not write this for pity. I don’t want anyone’s pity. The purpose of this post is two-fold. First, it explains why I’ve been MIA recently. Second, it explains things that I often briefly reference in other posts in full detail. I have written and re-written and struggled with this post, but it is important to me to share this story, my story, with you.

Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” My journey began when I was three. And, because it began with a swollen ankle, I suppose it did begin with one step.

Yes, it was at the tender age of three that the first of my chronic illnesses was discovered. It took seeing multiple doctors and undergoing multiple tests, but I was finally diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Since my initial diagnosis, the name has been changed to juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), “idiopathic” meaning that the cause is unknown. I was a toddler living with an illness commonly associated with the elderly. My ankles and knees would swell to huge sizes, feel painful and stiff, and sometimes require drainages and steroid injections. At the time, there was no pediatric rheumatologist anywhere near me, so my family had to travel nearly three hours, and later four hours, to see my physician. I don’t remember much from this time, and I’m glad.

During my childhood, I also dealt with asthma, though not on a very extreme scale. I did have some wheezing issues, and used an inhaler and a nebulizer, but I did not ever have severe attacks, nor was I ever really in danger of having one. It was more of a nuisance. A nuisance that got worse when the winter came and I got sick, which was fairly frequent considering the medication I took for my arthritis was immune-suppressing.

This might sound bad. It might make you frown and say, “Aw, poor Mary-Faith.” But to me it was not all that terrible. I was proud to tell my classmates that I was not afraid of needles because I got weekly shots and frequent blood tests. I went to school just like every other kid, and I was at the age and stage in school when if you missed a lot of time, you just made up your work and everybody missed you and got excited when you were back. It was normal for me, and it did not bother me. I was happy. I did not see myself as disabled or disadvantaged.

Then things changed.

It was the beginning of the sixth grade, the start of middle school; I was already freaked out enough. But just a few weeks into the school year, I noticed that I had hives. I had had hives before when I had gotten sick, so it didn’t seem like an incredibly big deal at first, all things considered. But then the hives got worse. I was covered (literally covered) head-to-toe. (I actually had hives in my scalp. They were so bad that I had to put anti-itch cream in my hair.) Not long after the hives appeared, I noticed a startling new symptom: violent stomach pain. It soon became clear that this was no run-of-the-mill stomach virus. My diet was reduced to only the blandest food options, and even those would cause me pain. We stayed in touch with my pediatrician, and it became clear to all of us that something was wrong with me. We just didn’t know what, or how to treat it. So I suffered through my enigmatic stomach pain for a bit longer.

All that itching and gut-wrenching (literally) pain came to a head one day. I do not remember much. I just remember that I had gotten to the point that I could not stay home by myself. I was sitting in the recliner, my father next to me. I was nauseated and cramping and itching and basically falling apart. Through contorting my body to try to find some comfort and trying to ignore the pain, I remember my father giving me a priesthood blessing. That, and the fact that he was voluntarily watching Say Yes to the Dress with me, is how I knew he was very, very worried. Sometime after my mother got home from work that day, I tried to eat a piece of toast with nothing on it. That piece of toast caused some of the most brutal pain I have ever experienced in my life. That was when we knew I needed to be admitted to the hospital.

Thankfully, my pediatrician was on call and was able to set everything up so I wouldn’t have to go through the emergency room (which was full of H1N1-infected patients at the time). At first, the group of residents treating me didn’t believe me. In fact, the head resident thought I was trying to get attention and tried to bribe me with Chick-Fil-A. But after much testing, it was discovered that I had helicobacter pylori (h. pylori), a bacterial infection of the stomach. My allergist said that I was only the third case she had seen with both h. pylori and hives simultaneously.

During my h. pylori stint, I had to stop many of my medications, including what I took for JIA. This led to joint swelling like I had never seen. It took multiple joint drainages and injections to get things back to normal. But “normal” was a relative term for what I was about to experience.

On the heels of my hospital stay, I got a bad viral respiratory infection. During this infection, I got one of the worst headaches of my life (that I thankfully have no memory of). My doctor assured me that it was a result of the infection, and it would subside. But the headaches kept coming, over and over again, to the point that I had to see a neurologist. My dear pediatric neurologist (who I swear is one of the best in his field and I absolutely adore) treated me for my new migraines. But he noticed something else. My heart rate was abnormal. It would spike upon standing by over thirty beats per minute. This is when he introduced the idea of dysautonomia to me. This is when my life changed.

The autonomic nervous system is a pretty important part of your body, in the sense that it controls many of your organs and all of the functions that you don’t have to think about, like breathing. But sometimes it doesn’t work right. Sometimes it causes your blood to not flow quickly enough to your head when you stand. In other words, sometimes it causes you to pass out.

I took this whole dysautonomia thing in stride. It wasn’t really a problem for me, at least in my mind. I was more focused on my chronic migraines – that is, until I almost lost consciousness when I was a high school freshman. Thankfully, I was at home. My father was able to half-carry me to a chair. That was when things became real to me. I had a problem (well, another one).

My official form of dysautonomia is called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS. It’s not a common disease, and rarely diagnosed properly. It is characterized by a heart rate that jumps more than thirty beats per minute upon standing. It causes shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and severe fatigue. It is treated in a multitude of ways, none of which are very effective. Today I am on two different medications for POTS. Without these two pills, I would probably be unable to remain upright for more than .02 seconds. I now also receive twice weekly IV infusions of sodium chloride, which I have found helpful. In addition to medical treatments, I also have to drink insane amounts of water to stay hydrated, as well as eat a high sodium diet to help with fluid retention. This is my life now. This is my normal. But it’s not normal. All of this keeps me from needing to go to the emergency room. But I still spend most of my time at home (or, more accurately, in bed), I still have low energy and high fatigue, I still have severe heat intolerance, and I still have chronic migraines.

Chronic illness has plagued my life since my early years, but nothing has compared to POTS. It is like a prison warden standing over me, watching my every move. It has taken away my life and given me a new one.

blooming

{ Image via Pinterest }

Recently, my rheumatologist confirmed something I had suspected for some time now: I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS is commonly seen in POTS patients. In my case, I have Type 3, which is the hypermobility type. This means that I am insanely flexible and can actually turn my arm three hundred sixty degrees. (Maybe I should go on America’s Got Talent with that.) My joints pop, and I feel strange twinges of pain that are different from what I feel from arthritis. I will be seeing a geneticist soon for further testing to ensure that my EDS is not more serious.

And in all of this I am grateful. I am grateful for the tender mercies of the Lord. I am grateful for the beautiful souls I have met on this journey. Above all, I am grateful that my Heavenly Father has allowed me to live with this long- (perhaps life-) lasting trial. I see Him teach me through it every day. I see Him lead me to greater compassion and understanding, for myself and for others. And I hear Him remind me of the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

“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. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake:  for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

Advertisements
2017 Highlights & 2018 Goals

2017 Highlights & 2018 Goals

persisted

{ Image from Tradlands }

I won’t say 2017 was a good year, because it wasn’t. In fact, I think it was a pretty bad year. I’m not going to miss it. And while I don’t think you necessarily need a new year for a new start, that’s how we act, isn’t it? We tend to reflect back on what we went through the last year, so here we go – my list of highlights of 2017…

  • My trip to Nashville. If it weren’t for my chronic illnesses, I never would have gone to Nashville at all. My real reason for going was to go to the dysautonomia clinic at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. (You can read about that here.) That was not the best experience in the world, and I ended up getting sick from some of the testing they did. But, after I got over this insanity, I was able to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, the Grand Ole Opry, and, of course, a couple of stores that we don’t have here in the middle of nowhere. (Shoutout to the ladies at Lush at the Green Hills Mall! They are the sweetest employees ever.)
  • I went to a Luke Bryan concert. My sisters were sweet enough to give me tickets to a concert I desperately wanted to go to for my birthday – Luke Bryan, Brett Eldredge, and Brett Young. I become a huge Brett Young fan, I cried over Brett Eldredge (I don’t have a problem…), and I screamed the lyrics to every Luke Bryan song (and maybe cried some more). Other than an acoustic jam sponsored by a local radio station, this was my first country concert, and it was beyond what I could have hoped for.
  • I was a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding. This year, my cousin got married, and I had the honor of being one of her bridesmaids. I also got to help throw her bridal shower, which was beyond fun. Being a part of her bride tribe is a memory I will hold onto forever. Also, if you missed our bridesmaids dance, I’m sorry you’ll never get to witness that beautiful moment in time. (JK, people are probably having nightmares about it still.)
  • I saw the solar eclipse. I live right in the path of totality, and I saw it all. I saw the sun covered. Then I saw it uncovered. It was all great. (Although maybe slightly less of a bigger deal than people made it out to be. Also I got bitten by approximately twelve [not exaggerating] mosquitoes.) Other than that, it was great.

And, now, a few favorites…

My Top 10 Most Played Songs of the Year:

  1. “Better Man” by Little Big Town
  2. “Legends” by Kelsea Ballerini
  3. “Broken Glass” by Rachel Platten
  4. “Every Little Thing” by Carly Pearce
  5. “I’ll Find You” by Lecrae ft. Tori Kelly
  6. “How Far I’ll Go” by Auli’i Cravalho
  7. “Can I Be Him” by James Arthur
  8. “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran
  9. “In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young
  10. “Road Less Traveled” by Lauren Alaina

My Top 5 Favorite Albums of the Year:

  1. Unapologetically by Kelsea Ballerini
  2. Flicker by Niall Horan (clean version, y’all)
  3. Wonder by Hillsong United
  4. Waves by Rachel Platten
  5. Brett Eldredge by (you guessed it) Brett Eldredge

My Top 5 Favorite Movies of the Year:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. The Greatest Showman
  3. Beauty & the Beast
  4. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
  5. Hidden Figures

My Top 5 Favorite Books of the Year:

  1. Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
  2. Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
  3. Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  4. These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
  5. A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

2018

{ Image from Pinterest }

And now, we’re in 2018. I can’t say that I have very many New Year’s resolutions; I’ve just never really gotten into that kind of thing. I forget them in two weeks and then feel guilty about it later. But, this year, I’m making more of an effort here. I picked a word for the year: Grace. Not just the kind of grace we receive from God, but the kind of grace we should give to ourselves. So I guess that’s one of my goals: to be a little bit easier on myself. To remember that I’m human, and God expects me to be worthy now, not perfect. And, I have a scripture picked out; it’s Doctrine and Covenants 82:10: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” So, English translation: When we do what the Lord says when we are obedient to His commands, he is bound to His promises. He will do what He has told us to do. But, if we don’t obey him, then he is not required to give us his promised blessings. So trust him in the waiting, and do what He says in the meantime. You’ll get your blessings in His time.

I don’t know what’s coming this year. It could be great. It could be horrible. But I’m here, and I’m ready for it.

17 Women Who Inspired Me in 2017

17 Women Who Inspired Me in 2017

2017 was the year of the woman. Ladies fought back. And they fought back hard. I’m proud to be a woman, and to have been inspired by these amazing, fierce women. It was so hard to narrow down this list, and there are so many others I wish I could have included. But, here, in no particular order, are seventeen women who inspired me this year…

{Note: This list is comprised of women that are in the spotlight and have some sphere of influence. There are certainly plenty of women I know personally who inspire me every day, but I felt that this would be a bit more relatable for us all.}

  1. Gal Gadot

Gal

I think I’ve told everyone and their mother how much I love Wonder Woman by now. It was the movie I never knew I needed. But it was more than that. She is the hero I never knew I needed. And Gal Gadot really is Wonder Woman. So, I guess that makes her the hero I never knew I needed. This Israeli actress not only slayed her role (she filmed part of Justice League while pregnant), but she has continuously reiterated the fact that Wonder Woman’s strength is based in her warmth and compassion. I couldn’t agree more. Bonus fun fact: She also served in the Israeli military. Yeah, she’s the real deal.

“I think women are amazing for being able to show what they feel. I admire women who do. I think it’s a mistake when women cover their emotions to look tough. I say let’s own who we are and use it as a strength.”

  1. Rachel Platten

rachel

I honestly don’t know why I find Rachel Platten so inspiring. I just do. You know how you feel like some musicians are just there for you? That’s how I feel about Rachel. Her first single, “Fight Song,” is kind of my everything, and her first album blew me away. With lyrics like “I’m gonna dance on broken glass, and I’m gonna make that ceiling crash” and “You’re on the ground and I’m climbing mountains,” it’s safe to say I feel the same way about her second album. Her connection to and interaction with her fans is incredible, and by partnering with organizations like I Am That Girl and the Girl Scouts of America, she’s just spreading the girl power.

“Won’t change for you or no one else making me feel I’m not enough when I am.”

  1. Susan Collins

susan

Senator Susan Collins is one of my favorite people on the Hill. Her conservative-yet-moderate stance aligns perfectly with my own political views, and she has fought against some of the worst bills that the Senate has tried to pass this year (*cough*healthcare*cough*). I admire her courage and strength. She is certainly no longer just the obscure, unknown senator from Maine. This year, she has been strong and courageous, and has refused to back down under pressure.

“What I find is with all due deference to…our male colleagues, that women’s styles tend to be more collaborative.”

  1. Victoria Arlen

victoria

I had never heard of Victoria Arlen before watching her on the most recent season of Dancing with the Stars. Now a commentator for ESPN, Arlen previously competed in the Paralympics. This was after she was diagnosed with a rare disorder that rendered her immobile and unable to function on her own. After being confined to a wheelchair for years, she was able to learn how to walk again. Because of the severe health challenges she experienced, she is still unable to feel her legs. That didn’t stop her from making it to fourth place on DWTS. Hearing her story and watching her dances, particularly from “Most Memorable Year” night, in which she came to grips with her relationship with her wheelchair, I was so encouraged, and reminded that my chronic illnesses can’t stop me.

“Rock your disability.”

  1. Ashley Graham

ashley

Ashley Graham is a model. She is also not a size two. This has not stopped her from rising to prominence in the modeling industry, and she has inspired girls everywhere in the process. Ashley is real. She looks like me, or that girl down the street, or maybe even you. The best part is that she has embraced her size and the way it sets her apart from other models, and is constantly working to spread positivity and empower other women.

“I refuse to let others dictate how I live my life and what my body should look like for their own comfort. And neither should you.”

  1. Dana Loesch

dana

Dana is a former anchor for Glenn Beck’s network, The Blaze. She is currently a Fox News contributor and hosts her own radio show. Because of her conservative beliefs, she has been threatened multiple times on social media. Things escalated so badly that she and her family actually had to move for their safety. Through it all, she has refused to back down or allow her critics to silence her. The strength she has shown through all of this has been amazing, and I have found plenty of courage through her own.

“I pledge allegiance to God and country, not God and party.”

  1. Lady Gaga

gaga

Okay, I would not necessarily call Lady Gaga a good role model. However, I had to include her in this list for how she has spoken out about chronic illness this year. She has been open about her struggle with chronic pain, and has brought awareness to fibromyalgia, a condition that is often brushed off as being nothing and all in one’s head, despite the fact that I and millions of others can confirm it is very, very real. For that, I say hats off to Gaga.

“No matter how much success you have, no matter how many opportunities, fame, fortune, no matter how many accept you to your face, the person that really needs to accept you is you.”

  1. Al Fox Carraway

al

If you don’t recognize Al’s name, perhaps you know her as the “Tattooed Mormon.” Al was living in New York when a pair of missionaries found her and began teaching her about the gospel. Despite severe opposition from her family, friends, and coworkers, she became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And she started blogging about it. Her blog basically exploded, making her a household name within the Church. I was so inspired by her book, More than the Tattooed Mormon, and her social media posts seem to always pop up right when I need them. Her blog was one of my biggest inspirations for starting my own. Al is considered by many to not be a “conventional” or “traditional” member of the Church because of her tattoos, and I like that. Because of my health, I have been unable to follow the same path as many other youth in the Church, but Al has shown me that being a little different is definitely okay.

“This exact second, God is mindful of you.”

  1. Emma Watson

emma

Truthfully, I think Emma Watson has always been Belle to me. Emma began her acting career portraying Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies. Although I have loved reading all of my life, Harry Potter changed everything for me, and so did Hermione. I truly feel that she was the first literary character I ever identified with, someone who taught me to be brave, but to be proud of my intelligence. That is where my love for Emma began. Since then, she has truly become one of my heroes, working as an ambassador for UN Women and speaking out for gender equality. This year, my dreams came true when my favorite fairytale, Beauty and the Beast, was released in a live-action version. Emma played Belle, but she was a new Belle, a defiant, intelligent Belle who earnestly sought more for herself. There’s nothing more that I could have asked for.

“Girls should never be afraid to be smart.”

  1. Selena Gomez

selena

I was first a Selena fan during her Disney days, but after those days were over, I kind of didn’t care anymore. But things started to change recently. Selena released better music, spoke out with the purpose of empowering young women, and shared her lupus diagnosis with the world. I was quite literally in awe of her courage; I don’t like to talk about my diagnoses with people I know. After having to cancel part of a tour, Selena got even more personal: she talked about the effect that physical health conditions have on your mental health. This year, all while releasing new songs, Selena found out her lupus had caused her to go into kidney failure. She was in desperate need of a transplant, but no one was a match – until her best friend, fellow actress, and roommate Francia Raisa was tested. She was a match, and agreed to the operation without hesitation. Selena has continually praised her friend for saving her life, and for being the real hero in this story.

“I would do anything to be able to have a good influence on this generation.”

  1. Nikki Haley

nikki

I am so proud of our country’s first female president! (Just kidding…actually, no, I’m not.) After being one of the best governor’s South Carolina has ever had, Haley left the Palmetto State to become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She has reminded the world of who the U.S. is and what we have done. Most recently, after a vote showing contempt against the United States for choosing to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, she gave a stirring speech condemning those who voted against us, threatening to revoke American funding of the UN, and assuring fellow member nations that we were indeed taking names. Ambassador Haley is the very definition of the term “girl boss.”

“There is no war on women. Women are doing well. But women are thoughtful. And what we in the Republican Party and across the country, Republican, Independents and Democrat women say is we’re more thoughtful than a label. We care about jobs and the economy and healthcare and education. We care about a lot of different things.”

  1. Lindsey Stirling

lindseyy

Lindsey is a member of the LDS Church. She is also a world famous violinist, combining the sounds of EDM with an instrument meant for classical music. Her eclectic sound has taken her to the top of the charts and on world tours, but she has never lost her standards. She competed on the most recent season of Dancing with the Stars, coming in second with her pro partner Mark Ballas. During the show, she was careful to dress as modestly as possible and stay away from inappropriate dance moves. She was like a living example of being in the world, but not of the world. Watching her on the show was a true inspiration to me, as an LDS woman.

“Be kind to the people around you. You will never feel better about yourself as a result of demeaning, bullying, or dragging others down.”

  1. Manal al-Sharif

manal

I recently finished reading Manal’s book, Daring to Drive, and I have decided that she is an absolutely incredible person. Manal is Saudi Arabian. During her childhood, she suffered abuse from her parents and siblings, which is typical in Saudi households. However, her mother was insistent that she and her sister get a good education. So, Manal went to college and majored in computer science. She then got a job at Aramco, the largest Saudi oil company. Aramco employees live inside of the Aramco compound, where things are completely different from the rest of Saudi Arabia. She also spent time working for Aramco in the U.S., where she learned to drive and got a driver’s license. She began to question many Saudi beliefs, especially the ban on women driving. One day, a coworker informed her that a woman driving is not actually illegal, it just goes against tradition. Armed with this information, Manal helped plan an event for women to drive, spoke to the foreign press, and drove herself – and got arrested for it. She spent time in a women’s prison for doing something that was not actually illegal, and was not released until her father appealed to the king of Saudi Arabia in person. Now, women are “allowed” to drive in Saudi Arabia. But without pioneers like Manal, where would they be?

“The rain begins with a single drop.”

  1. Meghan McCain

meghan

Meghan is a political commentator who worked for Fox News before quitting and becoming the token conservative host on The View. She is also the daughter of Senator John McCain from Arizona, who was diagnosed with brain cancer this year. Her bravery in the face of this trial has been incredible. She has become an advocate for brain cancer patients everywhere. She has also fired back when anyone, including the President, has said anything negative about her father, a POW during the Vietnam War. And, of course, she has kept her sassy conservative-mixed-with-libertarian political views through it all.

“Pain is real, so is hope…stay strong for me and I will stay strong for you.”

  1. Jordan Lee Dooley

jordan

Jordan is a Christian blogger who has gained quite the following on social media. But she has made one thing very clear: her life is messy, just like yours. She also coined the phrase “Your brokenness is welcome here,” which has created somewhat of a movement on social media. Jordan was one of the first Christian bloggers I followed, and has been one of my biggest inspirations for blogging. Her sweet, spirit-filled words always seem to hold the perfect reminders, and her growing popularity has not changed her one bit.

“The struggle may be real, but the struggle is also redeemable.”

  1. Josie Thompson Solomon

josie

Josie is LDS, and an activist. She started the 444 Project, which works to spread the gospel in other countries. She also suffers from bipolar disorder. I have followed her story for a while now, and I have been so inspired by her persistence despite the fact that she admits it can be hard to feel happiness at all. However, her bipolar diagnosis never fully explained all of the symptoms she was experiencing. This year, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease. As it had gone untreated for quite some time, it was bad, and she had to begin undergoing harsh, intense treatment that made her feel even worse. With the help of her husband and staff, the 444 Project has continued, and, of course, so has Josie.

“You don’t have to be healed to help.”

  1. The Women of the #MeToo Movement

me too

Whether you are famous (Rose McGowan leading the charge against Harvey Weinstein, or Taylor Swift countersuing a disgruntled deejay for $1) or not, whether you were harassed or assaulted, thank you. I cannot relate to your experiences, and I hope I never will, but I am endlessly inspired by you. There has always been an underlying tone of sexism and gender inequality in this country, but you have exposed that the problems go far deeper than men thinking they are better, or making offhand remarks to a woman about her inferiority. You are the heroes this year. Although there are men who tried to take it all from you, you have been the ones to emerge victorious. Thank you for speaking out. Thank you for enduring the doubters and the shamers. Thank you for being you.

“This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women.” – Stephanie Zacharek, Eliana Dokterman, and Haley Sweetland Edwards for Time Magazine

Bonus: My Mother & My Grandmother

lunchhh

I know that I said that I wouldn’t put anyone on this list that I know personally, but I had to include these two very special women. I have always said that I come from a long line of strong women. Because of them, I have become the brave, independent woman I am today. Their compassion and strength have taught me more than any of these other women combined, and I am eternally grateful for them.

 

{Credits: Glamour Magazine | Brainy Quote | Rachel Platten | Senator Susan Collins | Brainy Quote | New York Times | Pinterest | Old Navy | Brit & Co. | Pinterest | Pinterest |Pinterest | Health | Al Fox’s Head | Kensie Kate | Buzzfeed | Who What Wear | Pinterest | Elle | Nikki Haley | Brainy Quote | Glamour | Pinterest | Daily Mail | Goodreads | Meghan McCain | SoulScripts | Deseret News | YouTube | Time}

Just Believe

Just Believe

santa

“The memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph – and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby – that’s how Christmas began.

– Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

I was in the second grade when I stopped believing in Santa Claus.

I think I was seven, and it was that tender young age when kids begin trying to ruin the lives of their classmates by telling them “the truth about Santa.” I was horribly confused. I thought that they couldn’t possibly be telling the truth. I would ask my mom and she would sort things out for me.

For some reason, we went to Chick-fil-a after school that day. I don’t remember why, I just remember being in the car on the way there when I asked my mom about what I had heard. She tried very hard to reassure me and dance around it, but I was insistent. So, she finally asked me if I really wanted to know the truth. I said yes, emphatically. And she told me. We both cried.

I was devastated. I had lost a precious piece of the innocence of my childhood. I wanted so desperately to go to sleep on Christmas Eve knowing Santa would come during the night. I wanted to watch The Polar Express and know the magic I was seeing was true. I wanted it all back.

I remember I used to pray that I would forget that I knew the truth. In some strange state of denial, I would write Santa letters asking to please be able to see him, and each year I would receive a letter in return from the big man himself explaining why I couldn’t.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this pain I felt as a child would shape my view of the Christmas season for the better. To try to assuage my pain, my mom explained to me that Santa is really magic, the magic you feel during the Christmas season. She told me that was what I should believe in. I even have a decorative pillow that bears the word “believe” to prove it.

Believe. That’s such a simple word. We believe a lot of things. We believe the sky is blue, the grass is green, the sun will come up tomorrow, and the garbage will get picked up on a specific day. It almost seems to lose its meaning, or become ambiguous, because it means everything and nothing to us.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of believe is “to consider to be true or honest” or “to accept the word or evidence of.” Like I said, this can apply to a lot of things. Maybe everything. But what about the most important things?

Why do we have the legend or story or whatever you want to call it of Santa Claus anyway? I’m sure there’s a whole Wikipedia article discussing origins that we could all gain a lot of knowledge from, but I don’t think that matters. What’s the point of Santa Claus? He’s a happy man who delivers gifts to everyone…kind of like a happy Savior who delivers blessings to us. Why do we give gifts on Christmas? Because He is the ultimate gift. Why are we taught to believe? Because to believe in Him is the most important choice we will ever make.

“How is Christmas regarded today? The legend of Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, the decorations of tinsel and mistletoe, and the giving of gifts all express to us the spirit of the day we celebrate; but the true spirit of Christmas lies much deeper than these. It is found in the life of the Savior, in the principles He taught, in His atoning sacrifice – which became our great heritage.

– President Howard W. Hunter

Do you consider Him to be true or honest? Do you accept the word or evidence of Him?

I feel like this year I have been more acutely aware of my blessings. I have looked under the tree at my family’s presents and thought of how blessed we are when there are so many people who just want to be warm, or fed, or maybe even in a country that isn’t torn apart by war.

You all know I have anxiety. Because of that, my brain likes to find stress in everything – in exams, in shopping, in the things I need to get done while I’m on break, in hitting my scripture reading goal for the year, in not being too lazy…you get it. But through it all, Jesus has been especially close to my mind and heart this season. At church on Sunday, the focus was obviously on Him even more than usual because of the time of year. But it wasn’t all about His birth. It was about His Atonement, His ultimate sacrifice that He made for us. I appreciated this so much. I’ve always felt like Easter gets pushed aside compared to Christmas, but it shouldn’t be that way. The entire reason that Jesus Christ came to this earth, came to be born in a stable, is so He could atone for our sins and understand our pain.

You guys. Do you get that? The Creator of the universe came to this earth in the most humble of circumstances so He could understand you and save you and love you forever. Think about what that says about you, and about your worth. He thought you were worth poverty, homelessness, persecution, agony, torture, and death. FOR YOU.

So put up your nativity and know that He came to be born into nothing for you. Open your presents knowing that no matter how great they are, they are nothing compared to Him. Thank your Father in Heaven for sending His perfect, precious Son to bless us all forever and ever.

Take the leap of faith and believe in Him. He is so worth it. I promise.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

– Isaiah 9:6

I’m Not Ashamed

I’m Not Ashamed

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

– Romans 1:16

Recently I watched a movie called I’m Not Ashamed. This is a faith-based film that tells the story of Rachel Joy Scott, one of the students that was killed in the Columbine High School shooting.

Rachel’s story is an interesting one. She was raised in a religious family, but turned away from this as she grew older. Once she reached high school, she was really struggling emotionally. It was during this time that she turned back to God and the faith she once had. In spite of this, she continued to attend parties where her friends drank alcohol and smoked, and started dating a boy who had no intention of being in a committed relationship.

One day, all of this came to a head, and Rachel realized how lost and broken she felt. She made a commitment to change the way she lived her life and truly follow God. She made this no secret, even basing a school project on her faith. She lost friends and her boyfriend, but she touched the lives of many. Compassion became her main focus. She truly was not worried about the opinions of others, only the opinion of God.

As Rachel’s life was changing in such a positive way, two boys from her school were headed in the exact opposite direction. Exasperated with bullies and the clique-ish atmosphere of their school, they turned to Nazism and Hitler’s ideas. They became indoctrinated with hate. And one day, they decided to take this hate out on their fellow students. They planted a bomb, but it did not go off, so they decided to use guns instead. Rachel and a friend were eating lunch outside the school, and they were the first to be shot. After shooting Rachel one of the boys asked her, “Where is your God now? Do you still believe in God?”

Rachel answered without doubt or hesitation. She knew she would die. And yet her response was, “You know I do.” One of the boys then fired the fatal shot.

This all probably sounds pretty gruesome. (And, of course, it was.) But what happens next is what is truly beautiful. Sometime after the shooting, Columbine students turned Rachel’s car, parked at the school, into a memorial. Students who barely knew her, friends who abandoned her, her former boyfriend, her brother, an autistic boy she befriended, and everyone in between left flowers and notes on and around the car. The notes told of what a difference she made in their lives. What an example she was. How missed she would be. How loved she was by those she showed unconditional love to. How she changed the world.

Rachel was talented in many forms of art. When she was a little girl, she even drew on her furniture. The very last scene of the movie shows her mother moving an old dresser of hers to pick up something that had fallen behind it. There, on the back of the piece of furniture, is a tracing of Rachel’s hand she made as a child. Written inside the hand is the simple but profound statement, “My name is Rachel Joy Scott, and one day these hands will touch many hearts.”

For the entirety of this movie, I was struck by Rachel and the way she chose to live. It caused me to examine my life. Yes, I’m a Christian. Yes, I love God and Jesus. But am I living my life for Them as fully as They want me to? Am I living a life filled with compassion? If I was ever in Rachel’s situation, would my response be more than just “yes?” Would it be “you know I do?”

Maybe. But maybe not.

“I am not ashamed, because You’ve given me life / I am not afraid, because You’ve opened up my eyes”

– “I’m Not Ashamed” by Abigail Duhon

As I said before, I am not living some terrible life. But I don’t know if I’m living Rachel’s life either. I don’t want to be half-way with my beliefs. I don’t want to talk about the gospel only when it feels comfortable. I don’t want to do things like pray and study the scriptures because they’re part of some checklist.

I don’t want to worry about what other people think. I don’t want likes and followers and numbers stop me from being 100% real. I don’t want the wickedness in this world to stop me from changing it.

I want to live like Rachel. I want to live unashamed.

You can’t touch lives and hearts when you are scared and holding back. You can’t change the world from inside of your comfort zone. I think “comfortable” is a bad word in the gospel. Living for Jesus and living like He did isn’t supposed to be comfortable.

We have to be okay with being uncomfortable. With talking to people when we don’t want to. With accepting ridicule from a tainted world. Because living unashamed is living for something greater than this world.

That’s how I want to live. What about you?

“I will sing about Your love / I will shout it to the sky / I will tell of what You’ve done / When the people ask me why I live my life this way I’ll say that I am unashamed of You”

– “Unashamed of You” by Chris August

“Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on his behalf.”

– 1 Peter 4:16

 

{ Featured Image by Olivia Snow on Unsplash }

I Just Want a One-Piece

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

Easter Every Day

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.

jesus-woman-taken-in-adultery-948852-gallery.jpg

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.

jesus-praying-in-gethsemane-39591-gallery

“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.

bible-videos-jesus-pilate-1433399-gallery

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.

the-second-coming-39618-gallery

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.

jesus-at-the-door-39617-gallery