Day 703: Take the Step You See

Honest confession: tonight fear gripped ahold of me. Grabbed my heart and my future and squeezed the joy out of them. Sudden anxieties because I don’t have all the answers to where and when for the next season. I don’t know the who or even the how of what is to come. The newness of the year has worn off. Here to stay is the doubt of what is to come.
Thankfully, just mere hours ago, I sat in a LIFEgroup where we discussed the foolish Israelites and their inability to trust God to provide day to day.
Someone mentioned the verse “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Now, I learned this verse when I was just a daisy in Missionettes (RIP Missionettes), but it has followed me through life and the truth hadn’t changed. It doesn’t say it’s a spotlight or stadium lighting that’ll show us  the length of a football field ahead. It’s a lamp that illuminates its immediate surroundings. We can see where we just came from and a few steps ahead.
It doesn’t say it is an easy path. We just know it’s the path we’re called to walk in.

Truth is, I don’t know nothin’ about what comes next. I know the Lord has called me to honor Him with here. The way I stand on this part of the path and the motives I choose in moving forward. See, I don’t want to see the rest of the path. I don’t. Because I’ll miss the good I’m standing in here.
Friends, don’t miss the love, friendship, and joy meant for here and now. Here refines you for there. For the next thing. Stop trying to find answers for questions the Lord isn’t asking you yet.


Day 696: Own Your Story

There is an unexplainable beauty when you sit down at a dinner table with someone and- over the course of a meal and a few extra minutes- you tell them your story. There is something powerful that happens when you begin to own your story. When you begin to accept who you were and who you are now and the journey of those two meeting.

Precious one, you were valuable to Christ then and you are valuable to Christ now. Yes, you are more than the broken parts of your story, but if you didn’t have the broken parts then how would the mended parts mean so much to you? How beautiful to get to a place in your life where you can unashamedly talk about who and what you were before Jesus stepped in and completed a transformation.

I am overwhelmed when I consider all the precious stories of life I have been told. All the people who trust me with bits and pieces of their story or large pieces of their life. How do I become worthy to hear and bear bits of their character and relationship with Christ?

From a very early age I started viewing life in this way: Imagine as if your life could be broken down in pieces like blocks on a quilt. Those blocks are parts and pieces of your story and character. Now imagine that the people you share your story with receive a block. Your block is sewn into the edges of their quilt. They share their story with you and you also receive a piece to add to your quilt. At the end of your life, the quilt is completed and all the stories you hear and the pieces of character you are given come together to make the most amazing quilt you’ve ever seen. The patches work in harmony to tell the story of heartache, loss, devastation, hope, joy, redemption. Every piece stitched together by God. The binding and seemed edges are full of Jesus’ sacrifice and tender mercies. You are left with a completed masterpiece that encompasses you to keep you safe and warm. This is your story and a million other people’s, too. Your patches are sewn into other people’s quilts.

Now, let us be wise in the way in which we share our story. Let us practice mindfulness at the gift and the burden of these quilt blocks. Let us consider how much of our story should be added lest we give away so much their quilt becomes our story. Let us practice respect in people’s quilts and the stages it takes on. Let us complement the colors of the blocks and realize we do not know the outcome of their finished quilt. Let us share with respect and wisdom. Let us own the season of present time. Let us give grace to the story of who we used to be. Let us be unafraid to hear someone else’s experience.

No matter who someone voted for, befriends, dates/marries, no matter their race, or who they will become. . . let us hear their story. Let us know them. Let us add them to our quilt so we may be more fully covered in grace, hope, redemption, and strength in all circumstances.

Day 689: An open letter to grieving people.

3 years ago I found myself in the most difficult season of my life to date. While I’m not eager to sit down and rehash this season of my life I will use this opportunity to write some hopeful words of encouragement to those of you who may find yourself with the companion of grief. Grief and I used to be well acquainted. 3 years ago,  the holiday season was spent praying fervently for 3 very dear people. Praying that God would heal these three men and restore their health and function. Never in my life had a prayed more for three situations or had so much hope that Jesus would do miraculous things in their situations.

On January 10, the first man I prayed for passed away. We grieved. We rejoiced in his absence of pain. We prayed for his wife. I again started praying for the Lord to work in the remaining two situations. January 13th, the second young man passed away. We grieved. We rejoiced in his absence of pain. We sought peace from the things the Lord was doing through his story. I again started praying for the remaining man. A month later, the third man passed away. We grieved. We rejoiced in the end of his long battle. We prayed for his wife. Then during the weekend of the third funeral I received news that my friend’s father had passed away. I made plans to attend the funeral and comfort my friend. Watching the nightly news, I learned a young student I had in a DNOW group had lost her father and step-mother as well. In one day I attended a funeral and 2 visitations. You see, three years ago I experienced a season of death. From January 10 to mid-February I walked through the deaths of 6 people. They were my friends, my chosen family, my friend’s parents. Each person I had a personal connection with or a loved one I cared about deeply.

In all of it, people encouraged me to be angry with God for how He answered my prayers. Truly, I never felt an ounce of anger towards the Lord for all of this. More than anything I felt confused. My prayers had basically been a multiple choice test where I gave God the options He could choose. You see, during that season I learned how hard it is to want to pray to a sovereign God when He answers my multiple choice prayers by writing in an additional option. I had the perfect plan for how He could use all of those situations to bring forth miraculous signs and wonders of His kingdom. Little did I know how great the reward would be for the plan He had instructed.

So there I landed. In a season I had orchestrated. Left to deal with outcomes I hadn’t prayed to receive. In that season grief moved in with me. She watched over me day and night. I’m fairly certain she would have paid the bills and swept the floor if I had been living on my own. There were days I would pass a mirror and grief blocked my view. She was a conceited companion. Begged for my time, my thoughts, my energy. Grief was a life hog that seemed endless.  That is the exact word I would use: It seemed Endless.

Dear friend, I’m here to tell you I know it seems endless. It seems like bad will continue to cover you and cloud you. Grief will block out the light from the windows and under the doors. She covers the mirrors so we don’t see who we used to be. She shrouds you in an unmistakable darkness that no light could ever attempt to dampen. It seems as though it will never end. An endless amount of aching sadness that stretches on forever.

But it will end. You’ll see the word ENDLESS break apart. END LESS. Then as it breaks apart the words skip around so all you see at first is LESS. You’ll see less pain and darkness. Less heart ache. The guilt of life will leave you. And maybe that’s the hardest part about it all. When the pain becomes less. When you wake up and the horror of the present season isn’t as terrifying. When you can take a deep breath for the first time in 6 months. LESS will come. You find yourself experiencing less of the bad and more of the good. I’ll never forget a specific moment towards the end of my season of grief. Now, I have always loved to watch the sunrise. I decided one morning that I would go and plant myself in a visible spot to watch the sun pour over the earth. I was convinced it would make me feel grateful and full of life. I made my way outside just moments before sunrise and I waited expectantly. Thirty minutes passed and nothing happened. I checked the expected sunrise time over and over and it was falling further and further behind. Then slowly the entire sky started shifting. The sky starting shifting out of the dark and into the light. The sky changed into a flurry of colors that matched the eyeshadow I wore in junior high. Then I saw a giant orange orb appear from behind a CVS Pharmacy and light up the sky. I laughed for the first time and didn’t feel guilty. I realized that the spot I had chosen was not the ideal place. Yet I felt LESS sadness and more joy.

When LESS wasn’t enough the END comes. The end of the every moment, hour, and minute that grief surges over you when you simply take a breath. That constant companion of grief will stop staying weeks in a row. She’ll stop staying overnight. Then  stop visiting with you all together. And that’s a hard part. Figuring out who you are without grief. Who are you when she no longer bars out the light and the joy and the hope of living? You don’t realize how grief fills the absence of the person you lost. Unknowingly, she helps you become a person without the one you lost. Yet, when she leaves you have to change again to figure out who you are. Think back to that sunrise I was so keen on watching. My sunrise had been hidden behind because of the view I chose. Who are you going to be when you have the opportunity to choose the view again? Will you let the CVS block your view? Will you stay planted in a spot that limits you from seeing the most spectacular things? Who are you in the absence of the one you lost? And the absence of grief?
Do me this one small favor: Give yourself permission to find out who you are again. You didn’t die. That did. That season, that person, that relationship, that hope, that dream, maybe even that prayer. It died. Not you. So grieve the heck out of it and then find out who you are. Because you allowed yourself to live, love, invest, open up your arms, have hope, dream, and pursue. You didn’t take that step to live your life or love someone or dream in the first place and not expect to change a little. So, embrace the you that was and is. And keep moving.

Everything that leaves or breaks or moves was either not made to last here forever or was not for you. That person wasn’t made to be here forever. This isn’t home. That season was a season and, hon, it’s time to go. That relationship was meant for then and not now. Prepare for the next thing. Hope is the cheese of life- sprinkle it on everything except ice cream. Never run out of hope. Dare to dream again even if it is something small. Dreaming is our way of pushing forward and accepting change as a positive. Go see a sunrise and pick a place with a good view. Don’t let things get between you and joyPray prayers and not to do lists. Pray prayers that leave the Lord space to write an essay of His heart. Pray. Pursue people, pursue love, pursue time, pursue hope, pursue Jesus, pursue others who are going through seasons of grief. Sweet friend, you were made for everlasting in a world crippling and falling apart. It’s painful, baby girl. But it’s worth it.

If you are grieving and need a friend to: pray, scout out a sunrise,  sit in the dark with you then please reach out to me. We were never intended to do this life alone.


Christmas. That one word returns about 25 different results in my brain. I think about the Christmas tree sitting in our living room. The presents that were neatly wrapped just a few hours ago. The food sitting in the fridge. The parades and festivities that lead up to Christmas Day. Christmas Eve and services that lead our hearts in reverent worship that isn’t the same any other day that year. The impending New Year. Christmas lights. House and subdivisions that participate in full christmas cheer. I think about the kids who attended KidLIFE, and all the things they hoped to find on Christmas morning. I think about the living nativity I saw once, and all the Christmas pageants I’ve attended as a kid. I think about all the kids who receive gifts from the Angel tree and all the years my family went and helped with the organization. My grandfather’s story he tells about having to bring the plastic baby Jesus inside at night because “he gets cold” even in this southern heat.

But in all those things the thought of ministry never crosses my mind. After all, Christmas is a family day. Christmas Eve is for ministering to others, but by the 25th everyone is settled in and happy. Or so I thought. This afternoon I heard my phone indicate that I’d received a text. The number wasn’t saved so I assumed it was likely a wrong number delivering a generic “Merry Christmas” because they didn’t know their cousin changed their phone number a few years ago. I almost disregarded it completely, but the message preview let me know it wasn’t a stranger at all.  To my surprise it was a family reaching out for prayer. Brokenness seems to have sharper edges during holiday seasons and healing wounds tend to ache more during times for family gatherings. A brief text explained how I could specifically pray, and the text closed with an apology for interrupting my Christmas. The truth was Christmas was over at my house. The wrapping had made it to the garbage can outside, the food was heated and chilling again in the fridge for later, candy had been consumed, and the gifts were post-inspection and laying around the room. Christmas was over. The family wasn’t interrupting anything because Christmas had already come and gone.

The thought landed funny in my mind as I tried to process the request for prayer and the apology. The apology wasn’t necessary because the rituals were completed. And I realized that Christmas is about spending time with family and those you love, but it is also about celebrating Jesus leaving His place and becoming man. Taking on all shame, brokenness, thoughts, actions, and words, and dying with them so we might be free. Free to live shameless, healed lives where our thoughts, actions, and words please Him. Jesus didn’t stop being the savior because we had gifts to open or because I was with my family. The calling on my life to minister to others didn’t pause because I had a present to unwrap. Christmas doesn’t just come and go. The celebration of Jesus’ life is a 365 day journey each year. How much more can we honor him on this day than to fall to our knees and seek His faithful love and mercy to heal broken situations? To trust Him to do exactly as He came to do.

Jesus is born. The Lord is good. Hallelujah.

Day 617: Finding Comfort in the Uncomfort

Confession time: today was the first day I didn’t have a mental meltdown about what I’m doing with my life. I think that’s mostly because I overslept and nearly cut my day in half. Because I have them every day. When I wake up I wonder what the purpose of this season is. When I get dressed I wonder what the point is when I am headed nowhere. When I see people hurting I break apart in a million pieces with them whether I know them well or not. When I am in a room full of people I wonder how quickly I could hide in a corner or slip away because I don’t want people to ask what I’m doing now or what the plan is.
Because the truth is: I HAVE NO IDEA. It would be that the one time I need a plan that I don’t have a single one. When I need to consider next week or next month I can’t even think through the next few minutes.

Here’s an embarrassing story for you. My sophomore year of college I walked through 7 deaths expected and unexpected. People I knew closely and others less. Each death having an impact on my heart. At the same time I ended up developing a small medical issue. A cyst on the base of my tailbone. Yes, a cyst at the top of the commonly known “crack”. I found out I’d be undergoing surgery and there was a small risk for complications. Of course small risk really means I’ll have them because I always do. Being a poor healer at the time, I developed an infection and my surgeon had to remove the stitches and allow the site to heal from the inside out.
Let’s review: crack cyst healing from the inside out. It meant having my packing changed once a day in an area I couldn’t see. (Or feel for that matter.) Having my mom help me everyday wasn’t an option so I had to ask my bible study leader (a nurse) to help me change my packing every day. This dear woman had known me 3 months and we had only discussed spiritual matters. We were about to be well acquainted.
We used this time together to talk about life and catch up. Honestly, I was thankful when I had healed enough to take over my own care, but I had come to value our time together. My surgeon finally consented and I was able to do things on my own. I healed. Both physically and emotionally.
My surgeon told me before surgery that I’d have a slight “deformity” from here on out. My family and I always joked that my “crack” was slightly more broken than others.

Why go so far to embarrass myself? Because honestly that’s how I would describe myself. Fully exposed in my imperfections. Raw yet somehow numb. More than anything “slightly more broken than others.”
2 years ago I had to allow someone else to see the very worst part of me. Fully exposed. So I could heal properly and get better.
I’ll get there. It’ll take time. I’m sure I’ll screw up a million times. My caretaker is a Jesus and He daily comes to me and changes the parts of me I cannot reach. Only if I ask Him for my help. I’ve laid here in my infection long enough. Time to cut the stitches. Heal this time around. Time heal from the inside out. I hope you’ll join me.


Day 565: Questions, Answers, & 9/11.

“But I just have one more question.”

“But wait I don’t understand-”

“But, how does. . .”

Here’s the truth, when I first started out in my staff position I greatly enjoyed the interaction time with our kids. We had a decently shy group (there will always be that one kid without a shy bone in their body) that didn’t always want to get involved in the activities and they weren’t eager to answer all the lesson questions. In the last year I have watched these sweet kids grow from just a few timid answers to getting involved to having kids who ask questions during small group time when they don’t understand something.

But of course we have just a few kids who are more outgoing and kids who aren’t afraid to let me know they aren’t “tracking” with the big idea or the bible story. Slowly they’ve become so open to challenging what we tell them. But why would Abraham let Lot pick his portion of land first? If God created earth then who created God? But how?  But why did Noah get to be saved and not everyone else? Why two of every animal? They ask the hard questions and the why’s that we as adults have just come to accept. Week in and week out we hear our kids asking the “why” or the “how” of almost every single bible story. I laugh because our kids always “take the high road” while answering the questions. They become experts on sharing or letting others go first until our adults admit that sometimes it is hard to want to share or let others go first. Then in a split moment the kids agree. They admit they wouldn’t want to let Lot choose first. That they would be jealous of Joseph if he were their brother. They admit that always doing the right thing doesn’t come easy.

Today, our lesson called for one super time-warped explanation of how Abraham had a son who had a son who had a son who saved Egypt. Then I had to explain that many, many, many years later his people became slaves, asked to be freed, were rejected, then plagues, freedom, the sea parts, the Egyptian army dies, the whole crew of Israelites wandering the desert, and all in the name of getting to the part in the story where Moses gains the ten commandments. All of this so we could learn the first four commandments today. Did you get all of that?

Well I had it all plotted and planned out because I like ideal worlds where plots and plans work. I should have known that telling that quick of a story would lead to us hitting a few bumps along the road. I figured I’d keep things brief and I would throw in hints here and there to help them start building this timeline in their mind without taking up too much time in our large group. (sidenote: The perk of being young and new to leading ministry is there are endless lessons to learn and relearn.)

At first things were going well and I was pumped about it all. Then things started to become more complicated. You see, our formerly shy kids suddenly wanted us to pull off this timeline road and set up camp in all of the stories I had planned for us to drive past. No leaving the biblical interstate. We had plenty of water and a full tank of my plans to get us all the way from Abraham to Moses and the commandments in 30 minutes or less. No detours. No stops. (Again. Young and new.)

Very quickly I found that our kids wanted me to slow down because they had some questions. Now I don’t know whether they asked them because they were genuinely wrestling with the weight of these stories or they just wanted to see just how much of the Bible Ms. Brooke knows. There were a few moments where I wondered if I need to purchase some heavier study materials or if I could learn the original language and get my hands on some scrolls by next week. I mean, if there was a question they could have asked then they asked it. We struggled through the idea of the sea parting (the kids seem to think the Israelites should have just gotten to work drinking all the water as the Egyptian army barreled towards them. Once we settled that they wanted to know if they needed a ladder to reach the bottom of the sea.) but once we established the wandering of the Israelites one little girl asked a simple question,

“So. . . like, what did the Israelites eat while they were wandering?”

At this point I debated shutting down all the questions because I figured we wouldn’t make it to the commandments before our parents were ready to pick up their inquisitive young ones. The parting sea was a stretch and now I have to explain that Panera bread fell from the sky like “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” for 40 years. Oh boy. I weighed my possible options in my mind. I could just say that what they ate wasn’t important during our lesson and we needed to move on. We had wasted plenty of time and- no. We weren’t wasting time. Because in that moment I looked at that little girl and I realized that she wasn’t asking questions because she didn’t want us to get to the ending point for the day. She didn’t even know our final destination for this trip was to get to the stone tablets of ten commands. She just wanted to know. Because sometimes you can look around a room of kids and see the kids who genuinely want to know. Because knowing what they ate makes those crazy rebellious, distrusting Israelites just a little more real to them. Sometimes they just need to ask questions to see what else they can learn.

As I mulled over my answering options I remembered the meaning  of today’s date. September 11. I thought back to this same day 15 years ago and where I was the exact moment it all happened. I was little. I didn’t really understand, but I knew it played over and over again on the television screen in every household. Planes. Big matching buildings. Screaming and crying. Smoke field streets. I remember them talking about fatalities and not knowing what that word meant. It was a time when I was left with a lot of questions. What were those big buildings? Why did planes go inside them? Why? Who? What?

On this day 15 years ago I sat and asked adults questions about an event that changed our nation. It made me immediately grateful that the questions my kids were asking today were not “Why did those people jump from those windows?” or “Are there bad men on every airplane?” Instead the questions were simple, but full of importance to them. So I gathered my thoughts and I realized that the journey I had planned for today’s lesson just wasn’t going to work for our inquisitive kids.

I answered her question and a dozen more before we got to Moses and the stone tablets. Of course we landed on the first four of the commandments before we dismissed to small group and we were just mere minutes astray. We just needed to make a few pitstops before we got to where we were going. All of the pitstops in the world are worth it to teach our kids about the Lord. To know that no matter what we have a God who- time and again- has gone before His people to provide, guide, and oversee. I don’t know where our nation is headed or our world, but I want to know that wherever it takes our kids we can rest assured they know that God has been working, plotting, planning for far longer and far better than we could ever imagine. Come crumbling devastation, freedom, or rebellion our God always remains faithful to provide, to seek, to lead. May that be something we never forget along with the lives lost 15 years ago.

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!