Day 557: The Heifer (that isn’t) in My Head

It isn’t brain surgery.

That is one phrase I’ve used before to describe the simple nature of activities. However, the sentence is an accurate description of this season of my life. This season truly, genuinely isn’t brain surgery. This season is full of waiting, pursuing, pushing for hope and change. Reliance on medication and doctors who know far more than my (large) brain can fathom or imagine.

But before we get to this season, allow me to back up five months to April of this year. April 18, 2016. Monday. It was supposed to be a normal Monday. Mundane, uneventful, full of grace, laughter, and the ordinary. Instead, I woke up that morning, ran out the door for class, and had a minor car wreck. Neither car was damaged, but I hit my head on my steering wheel.

So instead of a list of classes, staff meetings, more class, and a mundane Monday, I found myself sitting in the Emergency Room of a local hospital with my parents. We were called back rather quickly, I was sent for a CT Scan, and we received surprising results. I didn’t have a concussion, but I needed further testing because they found a possible malformation.

Now, I’ve joked for quite a while that something was wrong with my brain, but I never expected it to be true. We scheduled the MRI for the day before my college finals started. The MRI took forever and I was hoping it would all just be a simple blemish on the CT film. That afternoon they called with the results. The scan revealed that I did, in fact, have a Chiari Type I Malformation.

Now, for those that don’t know what a Chiari Malformation is. . . allow me to explain. A Type 1 Chiari Malformation involves in the cerebellum. The cerebellum sits at the back of the brain. It controls movement, balance, all muscle functions. When a person has Chiari it basically means: Big Brain. Small skull. The brain is too large for the skull it lives in so the cerebellum is pushed downward and the cerebellar tonsils descend down into the space with the brain stem.

We were then sent on a long journey the last five months where we went from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what this means. A quick google search and you will find a whole community of people with stories very similar to mine. People who have lived with headaches and other symptoms for quite a while, but no one ever figuring it out. You will also find various approaches to treat Chiari. Yes, there are a few surgeries that could be done. There is also an option to pursue medication to manage symptoms.

Let me stop for a moment and answer some common questions:

Will it kill me? No. People with Chiari Type I go on to live very full and complete lives. They deal with symptoms that may progressively become worse and sometimes they live with very minor symptoms for their whole life.

Can you feel the tonsils when you touch your neck? Y’all, I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been asked this more than once. No. The tonsils are still covered by strong muscles of the neck and the lining of the brain in addition to the top vertebrae of my spine.

You said your tonsils. . . Yeah. Let me cut you off right there. Not the same tonsils as you have in your throat. Different tonsils.

How are you just now finding out about this? Well, I’ve dealt with headaches (a common symptom) since my early teens, but that paled in comparison with the other symptoms I was dealing with. I’ll remind you I was misdiagnosed with Crohn’s Disease for 5 years and Hashimotos Thyroiditis for a year. We’ve been working to figure this out for over 10 years. No one attributed it all to the brain.

Should you desire to spend more time reading about this, here is a link that explains things.

At first we decided that we would do surgery. The neurosurgeon would open up the lining of my brain and sew in a patch made from a cow’s (yes, a heifer.) heart sack into the lining of my brain. (Sounds pretty rad, right?) I set up my life and started preparing to have surgery in August or early September. However, after having my case reviewed by 10 different doctors we have come to a place where we agree that I do not need surgery. I have not experienced any serious neurological deficits that would require surgery to remove the pressure. Instead, we are using medication to treat the symptoms I have. The hope is that I will never need to have surgery, but we cannot predict the future. For here and now, I take medicine and I continue to do the normal things in my life. So there will be no heifer in my head. Well, not a new heifer at least. Which leads me back to my opening phrase, “it isn’t brain surgery.” Because, well, it isn’t. It could have been and it may be some day, but for now it isn’t brain surgery. The numerous doctor’s appointments come to a stop. The chaos of the whole experience calms. We resume what feels like “normal” life except we have this new piece of information. This new knowledge about my brain.

September is Chiari Awareness Month. It is exciting to know that there is a community of people hoping to put this out there. Now if you do enough research you will probably find a crazy story or two of someone who had the surgery and something terrible happened. People who are crippled by this malformation. Don’t let that scare you. Why? Because the people who continue to function and live a good life don’t spend their time writing their story. To know that there are “normal” people who have Chiari. People who get up and go to work every day. People who rock their big brain status and make the best of the situation they’ve been given. That is the life we live.

If you are a friend of mine then thank you for always keeping up with this journey, and for walking through the last few months with my family. If you are a fellow Big Brain friend then welcome to my story, and I hope you will take the time to share yours.

Happy September!

Brooke

Day 539: How to be Worthy of Love

Today in the heat of our running over our new rules model for KidLIFE a kid asked “does that mean we should love bad people, too? Like people who do drugs?”
I wish I could say I handled the question with fluidity and ease, but I decided in the split second between being floored slack-jawed and my response that I would redirect with “well when I say we need to be loving I’m talking about this room and the way you treat people here.” And yes, before you say it, I realize I bombed it. In that moment I bombed the answer.

It wasn’t until I went to rest my head on my pillow tonight that his words came back to my mind. “Like people who do drugs?” It’s so sad to me that kids learn so early that there are labels and actions that can somehow make them not worth loving. As if one thing you can do, one habit, deems you unworthy of love. Children give love at its purest form. It isn’t until later in life they learn to be so selective on loving others. Adults give them reasons why we shouldn’t love people. But long ago people got the word “like” and “love” unchangeably confused. We don’t have to like the way people do things. And trust me, there have been moments today that I have let my “like” control my love, and looking back it broke an opportunity for me to love someone who may not have been otherwise.

Brown. Yellow. Blue. Black. Or white. Doesn’t determine if you should be loved.
Strong. Weak. Tall. Short. Doesn’t determine if you should be loved.
Addicted. Redeemed. Transformed. Stuck. Complacent. Content. It doesn’t decide if you are worth loving.

You. Are. Worth. Loving.

There was a time in my life where I harbored a secret. Something I couldn’t tell anyone. I knew if people knew then they would know I wasn’t worthy of love. I was wrong. People didn’t change their opinion of my. My secret was trying to cut me off from love because it knew I couldn’t feel worthy of love of hold onto my shame at the same time. I traded my worth for a heart full of shame. But I found some people to tell and I found ways to hold on to the belief that I was worthy of love. For a while I wore a bracelet with the Swahili meaning “is worthy”. Every time I saw I would say to myself “Brooke, is worthy.” On the inside of the bracelet I engraved the Greek word commonly used to call someone in to the ministry. It sat on my skin as if it were whispering to my soul. You are called. You are loved.

Jesus told a story once of a wayward son. He ran as far from His father’s household as he could. He squandered and destroyed his worth and value. He took on titles that stripped him of being worthy to stay in his father’s home. He decided he would return as a lonely servant in his father’s house. I’ll butcher it so read this below. . .

“20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” – Luke 15:20-24

What do we do when we lack the value, the title of worth? We return home to our Father’s house. We confess and allow Him to mend our broken pieces. Heal our hearts, our story, our worth. We once were lost, worthless, bad people. But now we have been found worthy.

Because you are called. You are loved. Not because of the things you do or say or think. You are loved because you are. Because a God in Heaven loves you. Values you. Wants to redeem you. You are more than your addiction. Your race. Your story. You are more than the things someone has done to you or the story you have written for yourself. You. Are. Worth. Loving.

But Worthy Souls, let us not miss the other person in this story. Once redeemed, found, restored with worth. Let us not become the brother of the parable. Let us not judge or hold people to their past, their mistakes, their old story. Let us rejoice and join them in their healing, in the restoring of their worth. Because we have all been “bad people” as that little boy has learned. We have all had our share of bad deeds. Let us instead focusing on stripping the harmful labels and replace them with titles of value. We are people of worth. Value. Called. Redeemed.

If I could do today over I would have stopped for a moment and done it all over again. Because we shouldn’t be teaching children to let “like” rule our “love”. We should be teaching our children that worth and love are found in Jesus, not in labels.

So yes, little boy, we are called to love the people. All of the people.

Day 493: Waiting for Open Doors & Green Lights.

Life has been a little busy lately and I often struggle with stopping long enough to listen to the things the Lord is teaching me.

You see, for the summer I’ve been commuting back and forth between my home and the university where I earned my bachelors. Now its a decent drive of 30-45 minutes on the interstate depending on the traffic. I have plenty of time to listen to music, pray, talk to the cars around me, and ask Siri to help me plan out my day. As I leave my house, my subdivision, and my part of Brandon I have a choice of driving two different ways to  get to the same exact red light. I get to the four way stop and I have to make a decision. Left leads me down a street to another stop where I turn right and ride the rode down to the red light. If I choose to go straight then I have two more stop signs. A winding curve. A stop sign. Driving around the statue in the center of the square then up left to the red light. Clearly you can see why I always choose to turn left at the first four way stop. Less traffic. Fewer stops. I get where I need to be. Now, every day when I get to this red light I find that the other lane (the much longer route) has a long green light and cars zoom past me while I wait 5-7 minutes on my light to turn green. Now, if I’m a few cars back from the light then I’m looking at two green lights before I’ll even be close to getting to go. It is much closer, but I spend much more time waiting for my turn.

Everyday now for a few weeks I’ve gotten to the glaring red light and reminded myself “tomorrow we will take the long way and cut off some time.” Today was that tomorrow. I pushed forward after the four way stop. I made it through the next two stops, the winding curve, I dodged the statue and navigated the lanes of traffic. Just before I slipped up the green light to receive my own olympic medal for shaving off 10 minutes from my commute. . . You guessed it. The light turned red. Five minutes short of a bronze medal and there I found myself waiting. Again.

I. Was. Angry.

As I sat through the light that was somehow much longer than it’s normal 3.5 seconds I felt the familiar urging of the Lord pulling together a very tangible lesson.

Sometimes the Lord calls us to take a path that seems short, but requires much more waiting in the end. Sometimes we get tired of waiting and there sits another route we could take. It originally seemed longer, but we’ve seen people take it and get where they needed to go a lot faster than we have. So we take the long road, and sometimes we get stuck at the same dang intersection as before. The Lord often calls us the “easy way” and we find it nearly doubles the waiting we thought we would have to endure. The Lord calls us to obediently follow that path even if all the roads are leading to the same place. We all eventually get to the interstate. (or the sonic because we didn’t buy breakfast foods. Then the interstate.)

Now if you are in any season like mine then you know that the options are there. The doors will both open. The light will turn green, but you’ve got to make the best decision to know which path to take and embrace how long the Lord makes you wait for your green light. The path matters. The time it takes to get there? Well, that’s just one less lesson you have to learn. Praise the Lord for that.

Day 363: Bandaids & Craft Glue (AKA My Journey of Finding Hope)

A Year. 365 days. 8760 hours. 525,600 minutes.

A year ago I started a journey that has changed my life. A year ago I was riddled with deep anxiety, heavy stress, full of uncertainty, insecurity, unworthiness. I was broken. The last year of my life had finally caught up with me and all the emotions I’d stuffed away and all the things I didn’t want to deal with and accept had finally found me. All of those things surrounded me as a force to be reckoned with. It sounds dramatic, but it really was one of the most pitiful points of my life. See, I’d spent the previous year trying to heal myself. Patching my gaping wounds with bandaids and trying to craft glue my broken fragments back together. The bandaids only held in the infection and the hurt that was brewing underneath the surface. The craft glue only furthered the cracks within.

I was at a place in my life where something had to change.  I knew exactly who people wanted me to be, but I no longer knew the identity the Lord had for me. I knew who I was in the world, but not in Christ.

But see, a year ago yesterday all of that changed. February 22, 2015. I was sitting in church that morning. The same church I’d been hiding in for the last 6 months. I liked the church, but I handled gotten involved because I didn’t want people to know and to see how broken I was. I also couldn’t handle the idea of growing close to one more group of people and being hurt by them.

As I was sitting in that worship service I heard the voice of the Lord. Not audibly, but just as clear as if He had slipped into the chair beside me and started a conversation. In that moment the Lord spoke some things to me that I’ll never forget. Some things that I have seen come to fruition and some other things I’m still waiting on. See, I’d been running from the call of ministry that the Lord had placed on my life. My parents were children’s pastors and I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps. I didn’t want to pick up the legacy. I’d already been an interim Children’s Pastor and I had loved the experience, but ended up wanting to cast it aside when things didn’t turn out exactly as I thought they should. I’d been running from what I knew the Lord was calling me to do with my life.

But in that moment the Lord couldn’t have made it any clearer that He wanted this for me. That He had chosen ME for this. It was time to stop running. Time to heal. Time to take of the bandaids and stop using the craft glue and seek the Lord for a more permanent healing.

I applied for an internship at a church later that week. I was devastated when I found out that I didn’t get the position, but in that moment I knew my focus was supposed to be on the church body that I had been passively participating. From that moment I started the transition of falling absolutely in love with our church body.

Now a year later, I spent my afternoon sitting at a table with the staff of our church as we laughed, shared truth, and thanked God for the things He has done in our body. A year later I’m serving as the Director of our elementary school ministry. I’ve accepted my calling and watched as the Lord has spent a year shaping and molding me more and more. I’ve found healing from all those hurts. I’ve learned the power of an apology, and the truth of an honest conversation. I’ve found hope, security, worthiness, calling, and healing. All because of my Father in Heaven.

A year ago, I was clinging to a few hurtful relationships, but the Lord traded those few in for countless relationships that bring new hope and love to my life every week. Never doubt that our God is absolutely able.

If you’ve recently made the move to a new church then I have a few pieces of advice to offer.

1) Stop Hiding. Please don’t short change the body of your church. Let them get to know you. Don’t apply the hurt you’ve felt from others to dictate how close you allow others to get to you. The church can only love you as well as you allow them to do so. Let the body surround you. Let them get to know you. Let them try.

2) Risk getting involved. I get it, I’ve gotten hurt before, too. The older I get, however, the more I come to understand that those seasons shaped who I am, and helped me treat others differently. Learn from it and move on. Don’t let it define you. It happened TO you, but it is NOT who you ARE.

Never forget that time CAN heal wounds, but only with the Lord’s help.

Day 315: Where’s My Son?

If you know me at all then you know I love those sweet, sweet moments when the Lord uses the day to teach me. Right there in the middle of my busy schedule He captures my heart by showing me qualities of His character.

Yesterday was one of those God-reminding days. I found myself sitting at a table with the people most recently placed in my life, and also most deeply loved. We were pursuing our usual conversations when one of the men stood and interrupted the conversation.

“Where’s my son?”

The conversations stopped.

“Where is my son?”

It was a simple sentence, but one that suddenly invoked panic inside each of us sitting at the table. Where was his son? Why was he suddenly asking about him?

A commotion outside of our room was the cause of the alarm, and the son was in a room not too far away. He was safe and sound, and so were we. As panic was replaced with assurance the Lord reminded me of a few things.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20

The Lord is faithful. Unlike man, God does not have to search for us. He never has to ask “Where is my son?” because He is with us always.

Praise God for a Father who knows me, and my location.

Praise God.

Day 267: A Day Late & a Dollar Short

Dear Fall 2015,

How do I so accurately put you into words? I know. . .

YOU. ARE. THE. WORST.

Sincerely,

B-wheezy

I sat in class earlier this evening and received the news that (yet once again) I’ve fallen short of what’s required. I missed the goal. Undershot the target. This accurately describes the type of semester I am having. No matter the amount of time I invest in studying, the length of a study guide, the amount of research I do on a project, or the amount of time I spend with my fish. . . I am always a day late and a dollar short.

Be it, I missed a section of a chapter I was tested on, I made a careless mistake on a test, I made a formatting error (even after reviewing the paper several times), my research just isn’t good enough. I am always a day late and a dollar short. It has placed strain on my friendships and on my ability to maintain my own identity. I couldn’t measure up academically and I couldn’t measure up anywhere else either.

As I pondered this I realized that I should be trying hard, but the Lord doesn’t find my worth in my ability to create an assessment. My family doesn’t love me because my GPA is above a 3.5. My friends didn’t choose me because because I’m the best test taker.

Because truth is, I have allowed myself to only see worth in my grades. That’s how I have always measured my self-worth is because I’ve been an A/B student my entire life. I’ve not made a C as a final grade in a class since I’ve enrolled and I’m quite proud of myself for that. Its my sign that I’m good at what I’m studying. Yet, I have to realize that I am not the star of the class. I’m not the shining example and somehow I’ve fallen down into the middle of my class. But that has nothing to do with my worth.

So maybe this semester is ripping me to shreds. Maybe I’ve got a lot going on. And maybe this won’t be a semester I look back on with pride. But that doesn’t change the value I have in Christ. It doesn’t change the love my family has for me. And that has nothing to do with my friendships. College doesn’t last forever, and some day my GPA won’t even be something I can recall.

 

Day 250: Loving & Letting Go.

Most of my life I’ve spent letting people go, cutting people out, or clinging to them. I’ve struggled with a healthy medium and I’ve been given plenty of advice. It’s gotten a lot better over the last four years and the Lord has done a ton in my heart (and life) to heal the messes I’ve made and the boundaries I’ve allowed others to cross. The following paragraph is how I’d sum up how I feel about it all and what I’ve learned.

Loving other people is one of the hardest and most worthwhile experiences you’ll ever have the privilege to be a part. It doesn’t matter who they are or how long they stay, but it’s about loving them- REALLY loving them- for as long as they stand in front of you. The moment they leave, however, let. them. go. Because holding on ruins the love you’ve shared. It invalidates the words you’ve said, and the place they’ve held in your world. Love them to the fullest and let me go knowing you’ve given them all you can.