I drove away from Nashville, a few weeks before my surgery, with tears streaming down my face.
The day was Saturday, March 18 and my sweet friends had just left my house after coming over to prayer with me, all of our eyes red from crying.
I climbed into my car, preparing myself for the eight-hour journey home to Michigan, with these words running through my mind:
"I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS AGAIN, GOD. I JUST DON'T WANT TO WALK THROUGH ANOTHER SURGERY. WHY DO I HAVE TO DO THIS AGAIN?!"
But I knew I had no choice.
I knew that this surgery, with this specific surgeon, was my only shot at true healing.
I was scared of the outcome, scared I would come back to Nashville a different person and scared that everyone else would move on with life while I had to lay in bed for the next three months.
(Which is so silly because if you knew my people in Nash... you would know they are some of the BEST.)
After surgery, it truly did feel like hell.
These last three months have been some of the hardest in my life. With pain, my heart and with God. Almost as if my five-year journey with pain was leading me up to enduring this surgery and the months that followed.
I had already postponed my trip back to Nashville once because I realized I wasn't ready to do life at that pace again. I physically could not.
I remember God whispering to me in my decision to wait: "Don't worry. When it is time for you to go back, I will make you ready."
And alas, here I am 3 months later, sitting at an airport waiting for my flight back to Nashville.
My heart is overflowing with joy to see my people, hug (and meet) our new SAS team, and just do life again with my community.
It is overflowing with gratitude by the fact that I MADE IT. I AM HERE. I am on the other side. A moment I truly thought would never come. Like literal tears of joy streaming down my face as I write this post out.
And you know what? I am different.
I have changed.
(And I don't just mean because I have a lot more hardware in my back or am still wearing a back brace and using a cane. All of which make for comical travel and a lot of questions asked by strangers.)
I am different because you truly cannot walk through a valley and come out the same person.
There will be a LOT of layers stripped off you weren't ever intended to carry but there will also be SO MUCH MORE added on to take their place. Beautiful things that will gracefully slip into their place, as if they were always meant to be there. Things that take up far less space but hold so much more life.
You will see the world through fresh eyes-ones that know the heavy tears that come with walking through hell and back- but also can now see the things that truly matter in life.
Loving yourself and others. It will become the new mission of your heart. You will see why it is so important. And not as the cheesy mantra we so easily throw around that "LOVE HEALS ALL." But as a deeply engrained soul truth that Love truly does heal all. That cultivating deep, real and raw love begins first with you and Jesus. And then and only then can the overflow pour out onto your neighbors, your friends and your family.
I cannot tell you the number of times my neighbors, family and growing up in a small town has shown me what love truly is.
Love is your favorite tea (like actual homemade tea guys) brought over in a steaming hot mason jar almost every single night. (THANK YOU AMANDA)
Love is a fresh new bouquet of flowers accompanied by a sit down conversation in asking how you are truly doing. (THANK YOU ANNIE)
Love is homemade meals brought to your family for WEEKS after surgery. (THANK YOU AUNT KATHY, GRANDMA, ANNIE, MAMA LANCASTER AND EVERYONE ELSE.)
Love is people stopping you in the grocery store or on a walk to say they heard about your surgery (mainly from a church bulletin your Grandma put up months ago) and said they had been praying for you ever since.
Love is your parents praying over you and reading the Bible out loud over you every night for weeks because you can't stop crying.
And that is just touching the surface of my encounters with Love these past few months. That doesn't even recall my hospital stay and all the ways Heaven touched down through those people.
I am still blown away that I somehow got to be on the receiving end of all of this.
There is such importance in loving your neighbor AS you love yourself. Whether you believe in God or not-if we all just lived this way a little more-I truly believe it would change our neighborhoods, our states, and our nation.
Golly Moses guys. I know people say this is "so important" but it is SO IMPORTANT. True rest is sleeping for 12 hours a night, turning off your phone, reading a book, going on a quiet walk or being still with Jesus. This kind of rest will change your life because it gives you the much needed space to reflect, syn with your heart, hear His voice and relearn what your true priorities are in life.
I know the world tells us to go a million miles per hour and trust me, I have been the queen of that my whole life. (My parents told me even IF I decided to stay home this entire year to heal... I would probably still somehow be climbing Mount Everest by the end. LOL)
But guys, we miss SO MUCH. We miss the blooming nature around us, the person in the checkout aisle who might need a smile, or unplanned time spent with your neighbor talking about life. Take your running shoes off and borrow my cane if you need too. I promise it will force you to slow down and in turn, experience the beauty that is constantly happening all around us.
Sign off and look around. Seriously. Social media creates in us this crazy NEED. A need for validation, for wanting more, for wanting to be liked or "loved." You don't even realize it until you step away from your phone all together. (If you don't believe me- read this article by Denzel Washington on how phones are changing our world..and not for the better.)
I have fallen into this trap so many times and being home let me be able to sign off and TURN OFF so much more. And guess what guys? The world didn't end. I was OK. No one actually needed me. Even a few hours a day with my phone off provided me with so much more peace and gave me the opportunity to be intentional with the people around me.
Learning what real joy means despite my circumstances. For me, it starts with Jesus and making more room for Him in my life. It also starts with sitting down and asking yourself, "What makes me come alive?" and making sure you do that as much as possible.
This season for me, it was makeup. LOL. Who would have ever guessed?! I never knew really how to do makeup (or cared) until this season. I would just plaster some on my face and say, "That looks (kind of) normal." But makeup truly helped me get out of bed on the really hard days. I would turn on a YouTube tutorial (this girl is my favorite because she is hilarious and doesn't take herself so seriously) and learn a new makeup trick that took my mind off my pain for even an hour.
If you are struggling to get out of bed or having a hard time finding joy, find one thing-even if it seems silly-and do it. Every single day. Until you start to feel better.
(And also probably find a good counselor. They are God's gift to planet earth. Everyone needs one. Even if you think you don't. Then you probably definitely do. Just sayin'.)
When you walk through any type of pain or suffering, you will learn you are stronger than you actually think. And it won't be something you see every day. It will be something that you look back upon and think, "Wow. I did it. I made it through."
The daily struggles to get out of bed, make breakfast, take a shower, take your meds, try and find joy-it might feel like 1,000 pounds pushing back against you. Every. Single. Day.
But those small moments will add up to weeks and then months until one day you realize, "OH MY GOSH. I AM DOING IT. I AM STILL DOING LIFE. PAIN HAS NOT HAD THE FINAL SAY."
Pain and suffering will teach you more about vulnerability than you probably ever wanted to know. Because sometimes it will be so intense that you have no other choice but to bawl in front of your loved ones. (Or complete strangers in the check-out line at your local grocery store. That too.)
And on some days, (AHEM Easter) when you were promised steak but instead your family serves ham, (and you HATE ham with every part of your being AND YOUR FAMILY KNOWS THAT) you may even have a complete and utter meltdown over it and have to go to your room to calm down. (Don't worry, guys. We all (somehow) made it through that day and are laughing about that it now.)
Pain will force you to open up about why this season is so hard, not just with others but yourself and with God. And that vulnerability will make you a better you.
You cannot change unless you are vulnerable enough to admit you are not ok. (Shameless plug: I even wrote a song about that.)
The beautiful part about vulnerability? Sometimes, you may have to be the one to pave the way for others around you. And when you do, vulnerability will start to change not just you, but also your loved ones.
Things will get talked about and areas will be healed they may have never come to the surface had you not gone first. It will be the most beautiful and worthwhile thing to see unfold when your healing isn't just your own anymore, but also includes the people around you.
Life is a gift.
People are a gift.
The clothes on your back are a gift.
Cultivating a thankful heart will be your greatest tool to fight of entitlement and self-pity-even in the moments when your body is screaming in pain.
The world doesn't need anymore naysayers, complainers or self-centeredness. I think we are bursting at capacity with those things.
The world needs a lot more people walking around with hearts full of gratitude.
Do not take things or people for granted. Because sooner or later, they will be gone and you will be wishing you never took them or the moments you had together for granted. (I am preaching to the choir here on this one. Still trying to daily learn this myself.)
THIS one was a doozy to learn.
Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers (ya that is an actual thing), it is defined as "the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering."
Jesus never once healed a person in the Bible without compassion leading the way. Compassion left him to perform miraculous healing.
OH HOW I HAVE SPENT SO MANY YEARS NOT HAVING COMPASSION FOR MYSELF OR OTHERS. (I think this word might have to be the next tattoo on my arm. Or my face. SORRY MOM.)
But really, I had to sit still and ask Jesus for compassion to be the thing to fill my heart and overflow onto my body, one that has felt like it is constantly falling a part at the seams.
I had to ask Him for both compassion and gratitude before true healing could even begin. Why?
Because praise precedes our miracles. And compassion makes room for the outcome.
We cannot "muster up" compassion for others. (that is called sympathy) It must come first from walking through our own suffering and healing which in turn leads us into a deeper understanding of someone else's hurt and pain.
Lastly, Life isn't about the big moments-fame, being popular or "liked" by every single person.
It is about how you choose to live the small moments because those are what add up to be your life and your legacy.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.” -Ghandi
(PS: Did you know Ghandi never said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world?" ME NEITHER. He actually most likely said the above. We just shortened it to that.)
Dear friend, please do not wait until a surgery, massive heart pain, losing a loved one or hitting rock bottom be the thing that forces you to take a step back and look at your life and how you are living it.
Do it NOW. Do it TODAY.
And do it with endless grace, patience, kindness, compassion and Love leading the way. Because without those things, true healing won't ever have the open door into your life.