Why I write

Lately I find myself making valiant efforts to grow my library. My tendency is to consume as much literature as possible in the seasons of life where it is plausible. Furthermore, I have never been interested in any one genre. I tend to stay away from “self help” books because, well, I rarely find them helpful. In fact I think they are incredibly biased and often rooted and written out of shame. That’s a blog for another time, perhaps. My driving point here is that despite my urge to want to read, it often ends with me wanting to put the book down and write. Something shifts in me and I feel compelled to write. Here is what I find interesting though; up until recently my writing has been almost entirely private. Many of you reading this blog have reached out to me and complimented these little pieces of my worded. Little do you know I am typing these up on my cell phone with little to no attention to the overall framework of what I would consider organized writing resembles. This is not to belittle myself or disregard your praise, but it does reveal what I already believed to be true. Writing does not matter unless it connects. It doesn’t matter if you write sentences that flow flawlessly, have perfect punctuation, or the most refined vocabulary. If you write without transparency your words will fall on deaf ears. The truth is that I am okay if no one ever reads what I write, because writing is therapeutic to me; a way that I can sort the shuffle in my mind. Regardless of this truth, these are the reasons I will share my writing with you, should you care to know.

-I think we live in a culture that says a lot without saying anything at all. Everyone is posting, tweeting, and perfecting the face of their social media networks, but most often we are speaking at each other, not to one another. Don’t misunderstand me, I think social networks have there place, but they should never replace relationship. It is important that we think more about being meaningful and intentional in our pursuit to lead relationships in “real time.” When I write I feel as though I am able to have conversations with the reader, in ways that give you a clear vision of who I am or aspire to be. It opens doors for new conversations and even new relationships. By giving you my words I give you a piece of who I am.

-We all have a testimony. Every single person reading this blog has faced trials and overcome personal hardships. There are a few hundred of you reading each post. Some of you message me or email me. Some of you are fighting. Some of you are hurting. Some of you have reached the point of wanting to end it all. You may not feel able to, or want to put those testimonies in writing but, I will, and the reason I will is because you don’t feel able to. My encouragement to you is to never stop allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Be vulnerable. Our vulnerability can be really frightening but it can also be the most direct line to one another. Don’t go bearing your heart to the gossip queen of your crew, but slowly ease out of the gate and test people. See who they are and what they are about. My hope is that in an effort to be somewhat vulnerable with you I can be a blessing to your journey. I won’t tell you everything, not everything is to be told, but I promise to tell you what I believe matters and applies to most, if not all of us.

-Writing to me is the equivalent of a personal history book of sorts. The other day I found a notebook I’ve been hoarding for years. It’s just a silly notebook full of Middle School poetry that truly means nothing to me now other than a good laugh and a sigh of disbelief. So why would I be reluctant to toss it? It feels like a part of my personal history book. Dumb as it may seem to me now, it was at one point the height of my emotional processing poured out onto paper. Writing keeps me accountable to the times in my life that drive me toward growth. For that reason, I consider this little side hobby worth continuing.

This little blog has already opened up a lot of conversation with individuals I would not have expected would reach out to me. To those of you who have, thank you. Sincerely. You can and will overcome your present situations. Lean into Christ. Don’t over analyze your relationship to him. He is always in pursuit of you, you just need to slow down enough to hear him. I will write if you will listen and if you ever need someone to talk to I will give you my attention. This is why I write. I write because it connects people to one another and to emotions that get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. I write for the people I love, and I love A LOT of people. In conclusion l ask that you state your preference of he’s my next blog entry should be based on the titles below…

“Day 6: A body in motion”
“Sugarcoated Faith”
“Pedestals of Shame”

The courage and compassion found in a complete stranger.

 

imageAmong the many challenges of recovery I am discovering that my mental capacity for addressing adversity is crucial. Cognitively speaking, adhering to an emotional state of mind essentially equates to a diversion of progress. For instance, this morning I woke up feeling restless in mind, body, and spirit. Instead of addressing my emotions, regrouping, and moving forward I convinced myself that in light of vast alternatives these feelings were invalid. In an effort to be “strong” I retreated all shame resilience and completely forwent any opportunity for allowing self compassion. Often times, when we face trials and others tell us we are “strong” or “courageous” what they mean and what we hear are entirely different. To put it simply; we draw strength from one another’s trials by being a witness to the testimony of one another’s embracing of ourselves. When people say, “Anna you are so strong, keep your head up” what they are really saying, cognizant of it or not, is this: I see you owning your story, just as it is, and for that reason you are strong. So why is it that more often than not when we face a trial it takes us longer than everyone else to see the triumph? Why is it that I resonate deep compassion for others but struggle to allow myself compassion? What will it take to own my story, each and every day, even if it means accepting emotions I perceive as “invalid.” Grace. I refer to the word Grace insensately. I am well aware of this…but…the power of Grace is so irrefutable. Nothing and no one can paralyze my spirit when I receive Grace in my most vulnerable moments. To illustrate a picture of Grace as it was demonstrated to me today, I want to share with you what I encountered.

Late this afternoon I decided to leave the house with my parents. Today has been particularly exhausting, which is another blog in itself. The point is that at this point my pain was high, my morale low, and my legs weak. Despite my current state, cabin fever has been fervent lately and I could not pass up an opportunity to venture out. One of the stops on the list was of course, Wal-Mart. Originally I had planned on using one of the mobile karts, but upon entering the store I witnessed a young woman maybe five years older than myself in a wheelchair. She was paralyzed from the waist down. Now normally my compassion would kick into high drive and I would strike up easy conversation with her. I would want to interject the stares encroaching her. I would intend on serving as a reminder of the goodness of human kind. I would want her to know, foremost, that she is not an issue. She is a soul and she is a spirit and she is loved. Unfortunately that is not how the situation played out. Upon seeing her there, unable to move her lower extremities I lost my breath. My heart sank and my eyes filled with tears. Promptly, I asked my mother to bring me back to the car. Understandably, my mother was concerned that I was hurt or in extreme pain. Neither was true. I explained that I needed to get to the car, and once I did, I lost it. Call it PTSD, triggered, or shocked. Call it whatever you want. I was heaving for air for two reasons.

1.) I realized that could have been me. It was a very plausible outcome has I not had surgery in time and it was a risk with surgery. I have seen people in her situation time and time again, but it today it felt like I had seen it for the first time.

2.) My compassion for her was overwhelming. Perhaps to the point of ignorance I wanted to DO something for her. I wanted to lift her up and carry her out of the store and away from the gaze of strangers. I wanted to stand her up and let her lean into me. I wanted to befriend her if only for a moment.

I was not just crying for myself but also for her…because to even have been given a dose of what is her lifelong condition bereaved me. Some may say that this blog sounds overly sympathetic, maybe even offensive…perhaps she was a confident and strong minded young lady? For the record I am sure she is; I could sense it. I don’t want you to hear that I felt she was inadequate. I want you to hear that for me seeing her reminded me of the immense Grace I’ve been resting in. But Anna you’ve said it yourself, there is fear and shame and frustration. Yes, but with those emotions comes incredibly present weakness. Yet, instead of drowning in my weakness I have a relationship with an ever present father who makes himself so known to me amidst the chaos. His Grace doesn’t just suffice, it generates life. Grace has the power to stare humanity in the face and say…sweetheart I see you. I see that your body failed you but that your spirit is something of a warrior. Grace leaves you in a parking lot crying for a stranger; both because you feel extreme gratefulness that it ended differently for you, and you feel extreme shame that it ended differently for you.

Here’s where maturity matters. I can dwell in this place. I can be shamed and triggered…or I can simply open myself to the wound. In doing so I will make myself available to the next person who needs what I have to offer in reaching out. Not necessarily someone of physical disability, just…anyone. If I curl up in a ball and feel sorry for myself or shame myself for my story I will disservice myself AND those who need the gifts inside me. So, whether the emotions are fleeting or familiar I will face them. Day by day, week by week. Being courageous is owning your story. As I take on new journeys with courage I encourage you to do the same. No matter the trial, do not stand on a foundation of guilt or shame. You will not grow there and your feet will be without direction. Ground yourself in Grace, settle into compassion, and be humble. Grasp onto opportunities to be a light to others. Rid yourself of the rigidness of religion, for therein lies entitlement. Love others without contingency, and take in people of all venues. Our stories are meant to intersect, our compassion toward one another is peace, and courage will always come in moments of owning our stories. Be blessed and be a blessing.

Day 5: Desperation

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Desperation; also known as one of the most humbling words in the vocabulary of human nature. It goes against every barricade that is our illusive sense of “Control.” Desperation is intolerable, leaving us with little or no hope for rejuvenation. Desperation is the spiritual “high point”. A realm where we can give and receive all things without fighting flaws of flesh we latch to. In the fullest extent of irony I yearn for the next opportunity for the kind of desperation I felt not only on Day 5, but also, throughout the week. As painful and uncomfortable and even maddening as it was at times, it provided a window of clarity that simply does not come in the comfort of everyday life. In the evening of Day 4 I was informed that my status was considered stable enough to move to an intermediate care floor. As I was wheeled through the hallways of the Hospital life met me. Though it had only been a few days in the ICU, it felt like a lifetime. Thomas wheeled me, smiling big as life. “Anna you are going down a floor which means you don’t need my expertise anymore. I’m not going to lie, everyone else may take a close 2nd to me, but you will definitely receive good care.” Now that the drugs were lessening I told Thomas what I really had wanted to say for some time. “Thank you Thomas. You should know that you helped me feel safe. That means more than you will ever know. I know you probably have days where you are tired of giving but try to remember that you are one of the few who aren’t afraid to look humanity in the face in the darkest of moments. Thank you for everything.” We had arrived on my new floor. Thomas spun me around quickly upon entering my new room and told me to hang tight. I looked around. The room was simple, peaceful, and far more comfortable. The far side of the room where a fourth wall would have been was an open wall made up of window from ceiling to floor. A change of scenery was something I did not take lightly at this point. Thomas flew around the corner, hugged me gently from behind, and handed me a flower. “Now I am not going to lie, I may have a friend in the florist department who tossed me an ‘at risk’ rose…but kind of like you… it’s ‘at risk’ but making a real comeback.” My eyes filled with tears and my heart sped with gratefulness. I’m not sure how many Disney movies Thomas watched as a young boy but he had this whole prince charming thing DOWN. Now for those of you wondering no I don’t have a crush on Thomas. After everything I’ve told you, trust me, I would tell you if I did. The reason he is so central to these blogs is merely because in many ways he was Christ to me. He was a safe place. He was a smile. He was a laugh…and…he didn’t judge my tornado of a hairdo. Instead he acted as if it was all normal and to him it probably was. As Thomas left I gathered myself and took in the new environment. My parents followed closely behind and let out a sigh of relief similar to mine at the significance of being in a new place. “Oh Honey, this is beautiful and what a view!” My mother would no longer be crammed in the corner. In true fashion my father carefully examined my new room, particularly intrigued that my view was in sight diagonally. While I wanted to be in high spirits my body had other plans. Grimacing I searched for the nurse call button. A few minutes later a small woman of Indian decent arrived smiling from ear to ear. After introducing herself she, along with my parents, helped me stand. Instantly I felt discouraged. My legs buckled slightly. Eyes blurry and back searing with pain it remains a mystery to me how my body stayed up. It’s fascinating really, how much our bodies fight for us. We are walking, talking, resilient beings. My father supports me as I sit on the edge of the bed. His face looks worn. In my 25 years of being their daughter, I’ve never witnessed the strain of their faces quite like i had this week. The nurse, in her sincerest attempt to help me get comfortable lying down, failed miserably. Correction: it was damn near impossible for anyone to make me comfortable. Before she could grab pillow 1 of 8 I was screaming in agony, begging for help, and ready for whatever medication may come next. About that, bad news; I no longer had a “push button” for pain control. Instead I would be on a strict 4 hour regimen of Oxycodone , Valium, Stool Softeners, and Anti-Nausea. Since I know you’re all wondering, no I have not pooped yet, and yes I did have a 6’2 nurse tower over me and proudly exclaim they were not afraid to bring out the “big guns” in the event I didn’t poop. Let me tell you, there is nothing weirder than being given an allotted “poop time” OR ELSE. Also since I know you now want to know, I stepped up and performed. No “big guns” came out. Like i said, prayers do matter. “Anna I need you to try breathing and relaxing”. If I heard ONE more person tell me that I was going to freak. My patience was wearing thin and the lack of control I have undergone was beginning to send me into an emotional tailspin. I would like to tell you a spiritual intervention happened here, but that isn’t so. Not because Christ has stopped pursuing me but because I had stopped pursuing him. I was in fact approaching stage one of desperation. Desperate, but not desperate enough to not be angry, and anger….well….anger is actually a product of fear. Consider a moment in your life when you have been terrified. I guarantee you’re emotions made waves. I called a good friend of mine, who answered the phone at all hours of the night God love her, and I told her I “couldn’t do it”. Not only was that unacceptable but I kind of felt afraid by her comeback. Not in an actual “I’m scared” kind of way but in an “oh wow this lady must love me, she’s speaking TRUTH kind of way.” She may have felt at the time that her words fell on deaf ears but little did she know her words served as a mental redirection. My roller coaster was off the rails and she picked the whole thing up and tossed it right back on. What a blessing it is to have friends liken that. As we hung up I decided to pray. I told God I was angry. I didn’t understand why this had happen. I essentially went into “pity party” mode and could have kicked I would have. Instead I just screamed. Then it happened, you know, IT. My father came in, took my hand and said “I hate seeing you in so much pain. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I’m going to stay with you until I know you’re okay.” This is why earthly fathers matter. I am convinced that my earthly father has time and time again treated me with as much grace and love as a human can deliver. My father, right there in the flesh, was my Gods best effort in that moment to show himself. It is important to realize, that God cannot be confined. If you put him in a box you will never get the actual gift. He is in CONSTANT pursuit of us. No church, no ritual, and no deed can undo his desire for our heart. In fact, I believe it is arrogant to believe otherwise. I believe that we are not to be motivated by what “Christians” are “supposed” to do but by WHO Christ is and what HE promised. So as I lay there, a 25 year old adult, crippled with fear…my father met me. He came to me and he promised that he would not leave me until my fear subsided. That is gods grace. Though my pride and pity had me undone and angry at my Heavenly Father, so God sent me an Earthly Father to persist in the place that in that moment I would not. I am undeserving but my father is unrelenting. If you had any shadow of a doubt I am here to tell you that MY God IS unrelenting. Call on him and he will come. It may not be in spirit as we are not always willing, but he will make his way to us. Somehow, some way…he will make his way to us.

Desperation; also known as one of the most humbling words in the vocabulary of human nature. It goes against every barricade that is our illusive sense of “Control.” Desperation is intolerable, leaving us with little or no hope for rejuvenation. Desperation is the spiritual “high point”. A realm where we can give and receive all things without fighting flaws of flesh we latch to. In the fullest extent of irony I yearn for the next opportunity for the kind of desperation I felt not only on Day 5, but also, throughout the week. As painful and uncomfortable and even maddening as it was at times, it provided a window of clarity that simply does not come in the comfort of everyday life. In the evening of Day 4 I was informed that my status was considered stable enough to move to an intermediate care floor. As I was wheeled through the hallways of the Hospital life met me. Though it had only been a few days in the ICU, it felt like a lifetime. Thomas wheeled me, smiling big as life. “Anna you are going down a floor which means you don’t need my expertise anymore. I’m not going to lie, everyone else may take a close 2nd to me, but you will definitely receive good care.” Now that the drugs were lessening I told Thomas what I really had wanted to say for some time. “Thank you Thomas. You should know that you helped me feel safe. That means more than you will ever know. I know you probably have days where you are tired of giving but try to remember that you are one of the few who aren’t afraid to look humanity in the face in the darkest of moments. Thank you for everything.” We had arrived on my new floor. Thomas spun me around quickly upon entering my new room and told me to hang tight. I looked around. The room was simple, peaceful, and far more comfortable. The far side of the room where a fourth wall would have been was an open wall made up of window from ceiling to floor. A change of scenery was something I did not take lightly at this point. Thomas flew around the corner, hugged me gently from behind, and handed me a flower. “Now I am not going to lie, I may have a friend in the florist department who tossed me an ‘at risk’ rose…but kind of like you… it’s ‘at risk’ but making a real comeback.” My eyes filled with tears and my heart sped with gratefulness. I’m not sure how many Disney movies Thomas watched as a young boy but he had this whole prince charming thing DOWN. Now for those of you wondering no I don’t have a crush on Thomas. After everything I’ve told you, trust me, I would tell you if I did. The reason he is so central to these blogs is merely because in many ways he was Christ to me. He was a safe place. He was a smile. He was a laugh…and…he didn’t judge my tornado of a hairdo. Instead he acted as if it was all normal and to him it probably was. As Thomas left I gathered myself and took in the new environment. My parents followed closely behind and let out a sigh of relief similar to mine at the significance of being in a new place. “Oh Honey, this is beautiful and what a view!” My mother would no longer be crammed in the corner. In true fashion my father carefully examined my new room, particularly intrigued that my view was in sight diagonally. While I wanted to be in high spirits my body had other plans. Grimacing I searched for the nurse call button. A few minutes later a small woman of Indian decent arrived smiling from ear to ear. After introducing herself she, along with my parents, helped me stand. Instantly I felt discouraged. My legs buckled slightly. Eyes blurry and back searing with pain it remains a mystery to me how my body stayed up. It’s fascinating really, how much our bodies fight for us. We are walking, talking, resilient beings. My father supports me as I sit on the edge of the bed. His face looks worn. In my 25 years of being their daughter, I’ve never witnessed the strain of their faces quite like i had this week. The nurse, in her sincerest attempt to help me get comfortable lying down, failed miserably. Correction: it was damn near impossible for anyone to make me comfortable. Before she could grab pillow 1 of 8 I was screaming in agony, begging for help, and ready for whatever medication may come next. About that, bad news; I no longer had a “push button” for pain control. Instead I would be on a strict 4 hour regimen of Oxycodone , Valium, Stool Softeners, and Anti-Nausea. Since I know you’re all wondering, no I have not pooped yet, and yes I did have a 6’2 nurse tower over me and proudly exclaim they were not afraid to bring out the “big guns” in the event I didn’t poop. Let me tell you, there is nothing weirder than being given an allotted “poop time” OR ELSE. Also since I know you now want to know, I stepped up and performed. No “big guns” came out. Like i said, prayers do matter. “Anna I need you to try breathing and relaxing”. If I heard ONE more person tell me that I was going to freak. My patience was wearing thin and the lack of control I have undergone was beginning to send me into an emotional tailspin. I would like to tell you a spiritual intervention happened here, but that isn’t so. Not because Christ has stopped pursuing me but because I had stopped pursuing him. I was in fact approaching stage one of desperation. Desperate, but not desperate enough to not be angry, and anger….well….anger is actually a product of fear. Consider a moment in your life when you have been terrified. I guarantee you’re emotions made waves. I called a good friend of mine, who answered the phone at all hours of the night God love her, and I told her I “couldn’t do it”. Not only was that unacceptable but I kind of felt afraid by her comeback. Not in an actual “I’m scared” kind of way but in an “oh wow this lady must love me, she’s speaking TRUTH kind of way.” She may have felt at the time that her words fell on deaf ears but little did she know her words served as a mental redirection. My roller coaster was off the rails and she picked the whole thing up and tossed it right back on. What a blessing it is to have friends liken that. As we hung up I decided to pray. I told God I was angry. I didn’t understand why this had happen. I essentially went into “pity party” mode and could have kicked I would have. Instead I just screamed. Then it happened, you know, IT. My father came in, took my hand and said “I hate seeing you in so much pain. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I’m going to stay with you until I know you’re okay.” This is why earthly fathers matter. I am convinced that my earthly father has time and time again treated me with as much grace and love as a human can deliver. My father, right there in the flesh, was my Gods best effort in that moment to show himself. It is important to realize, that God cannot be confined. If you put him in a box you will never get the actual gift. He is in CONSTANT pursuit of us. No church, no ritual, and no deed can undo his desire for our heart. In fact, I believe it is arrogant to believe otherwise. I believe that we are not to be motivated by what “Christians” are “supposed” to do but by WHO Christ is and what HE promised. So as I lay there, a 25 year old adult, crippled with fear…my father met me. He came to me and he promised that he would not leave me until my fear subsided. That is gods grace. Though my pride and pity had me undone and angry at my Heavenly Father, so God sent me an Earthly Father to persist in the place that in that moment I would not. I am undeserving but my father is unrelenting. If you had any shadow of a doubt I am here to tell you that MY God IS unrelenting. Call on him and he will come. It may not be in spirit as we are not always willing, but he will make his way to us. Somehow, some way…he will make his way to us.

Day 4: First Steps

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The clock reads 9am. I am unbelievably grateful to have slept through the surgeons 5am rounds. If they asked me anything, I was in fact “sleep talking”. Finally rest had made its arrival, and with it, mental restoration. Even in the dreariness of the ICU something refreshing was in store for today. I leaned slightly to the side and asked my neighbor how he slept. His response came with a high pitch laughed of “Like a baby”. His condition was no longer critical and after only 24 hours he would be discharged from the ICU, and perhaps even sent home the next day. He explained that anyone 60 plus gets thrown in ICU “just in case”. That gave me a belly laugh that rippled with agony through every inch of my back. I followed with asking him about his return to the 2020 Olympics and he assured me, I would see him there; Track and Field of course. Thomas comes skipping around the corner and exclaims “Anna did I just hear you laugh?My goodness you’re laugh is infectious!” Thomas looked more handsome on a full nights rest; I found myself blushing. “Annnnnnnnnnnnnna it’s me your favorite surgeon.” I was starting to feel like I had awoke to some kind of musical where everyone was singing my name. “Dr.Hitchon you will only be my favorite if you promise to let me out of this bed today, I cannot take one more day here, I must get up.” Completely un-phased by my dramatic edge he promptly responds with “The more you ask the longer you lay.” I know, I know, he sounds like a drill sergeant, but he isn’t. He’s just profoundly skilled at knowing how to handle people for who they really are, and my manipulation was not a new tactic. Annoyed by his disdain for my plea, I simply shot him “a look.” “Listen” he said; ” I will meet with the physical therapist and she will examine you. If she gives the green light, we will get you up.” My smile must have said it all. He leaned in, grazed my hair gently, gave me a light hug, and told me that he was confident my stubbornness would serve me well in recovery. As he was leaving my mom leaped into the room with a size of Starbucks I didn’t know they sold. She hugged the surgeon tightly and he asked if she wanted to see pictures of my surgery. Being the never ending learner that she is, she accepted his offer without hesitation. Meanwhile I lay daydreaming of using my legs. Then I begin to do what I do best; think. What if they don’t work? What if I’m numb upon standing, what will it feel like? Why is everyone so hesitant to let me up? Why do they behave as if it’s the hardest thing I will ever do? What if I fall? Okay, Anna stop. Stop it. You are going to be fine. You are strong. You are not going to entertain fear and you certainly will not hold its hand. You will be UPHELD by the righteous right hand of your father. His strength is your strength and his peace is your peace. “Anna, I’m the lead physical therapist for the neurology department. I hear you are anxious to get up.” Distracted by her awesome scrubs I fail to respond initially. “Sorry, yes. Yes I’m ready.” A few “squeeze here squeeze there, push here, push there” tests and she agreed to give it a try. “Now push your pain button. I’m not going to lie Anna, this is going to hurt and it may scare you but I will be right here and between Thomas and I we won’t let you fall. First we are just going to focus on sitting up in bed.” I nod, glance at my mother, and take a deep breath. Finally my mom was in her element; cheerleader and coach, ready to do some encouraging. I grab Thomas hand, and I feel her support the top of my back. Unsure of where to start I am wiggle my legs as if I were bracing for what was next. Gripping their hands I rely on the strength of my arms. My biceps strain and my neck pushes me upright with no more momentum than that of a molasses. Every inch I say up felt like someone was tearing into me all over again. The pain kicked my body into “fight or flight” and thankfully the “fight” mechanism geared a new energy that ended with me in an upright position, legs dangling from my bed. The room spun slightly and my breath shortened. Nothing felt particularly good, but the adrenaline of being upright made me want to stand. “I’m ready to stand.” Thomas and the physical therapist look at one another, nod, and instruct my ever move. “Okay Anna, we aren’t going to let go. You’re next goal is to make it to that recliner.” I glance at my mother once again. She stood straight as a board. She was as nervous as I was. I knew I had to make this move with confidence. I knew any hesitation would send my body into “flight” mode. I knew it was time to put my game face on. I put one foot on the ground and then the other. Using my calves against the bed I stand upright. Pain shoots up from my toes to my head and I gasp. The room is spinning, my head is light, and I feel as though my legs may buckle. “Anna, Anna stay with…..I try desperately to keep my eyes on the chair but black spots cloud my view and I’m sure this is going to end with me on the floor. All of a sudden I feel a pinch. “Anna stay with us, move your foot. Move your foot.” I take a step, and I cry. I take another step, and I cry. I moan, I weep, and I struggle to breath. The chair gets closer and I get stronger. Thomas is cheering me on and though my mother is out of sight I feel her eyes on me. I make it to the chair and they sit me down. A wave of relief from the pain comes, but my body is convulsing from shock and my breath is shallow. They give me a blanket and put my oxygen on. My mother walks toward me. “You know when you were little and you took your first steps. I feel like I just witnessed that moment all over again. I’m so proud of you.” I focused on breathing and the longer I stayed upright the stronger I felt. The physical therapist leaned into me. “Anna, you did incredible. I’m not just saying so either. Ask anyone around here I’m hard to impress but you know what the difference is between you and most people? You WANT to walk and you aren’t afraid of the pain. That takes real courage. I’ll be back later.” Truth be told I had never considered myself to be “courageous” or “tough” but in that moment I did. I really did. Only minutes out from my victory my mother asked earnestly if she could put shampoo cap on and brush out my hair. Now, if you know anything about extreme pain you know the last thing you want is 4 days of uncombed hair being brushed out. But this was more than that; this was my mother finally having a chance to do something for me. This was about more than just me. She was going through a battle too. “Sure mom, I would like that.” It was good to see her smile, and as she put the cap on she expressed how amazing it was to see me sitting up. “Did you feel everything? Do you think you’ll be able to go again today? Could you tell if there was any numbness?” Clearly, we were approaching what for my mother was a long overdue Q&A. “I’m not sure mom. It was too intense to really say for sure, but it sure felt like I felt everything.” Without missing a beat she says ” It’s going to be great. You’re doing great.” All at once it occurred to me how much this had affected my family. Unable to communicate with anyone yet, she was encouraging me to make a few calls. “Mom, I just kind of want to sit here and enjoy this for awhile. It kind of feels like a time I need to process.” She smiled big. “Okay well you process, stay sitting up, and I’m going to find some lunch.” With that she was off and I was staring down Thomas from an entirely new angle. “Anna, you’re a badass.” Smiling I respond with “I think my god is a badass.” Thomas laughs and says “What do you suppose God thinks of you calling him a badass?” ….”Thomas God has a sense of humor, but he would probably humbly respond and remind me that walking today is about much more than my physical strength.” Thomas seemed pleased with my answer. “You know I used to be pretty unsure about God, but Anna I’ve seen miracles in this hospital and you are one of them. No bluff, you really are. When Dr. Hitchon gave us your report I would have never dreamed you would be out of bed before a week at least.” There were no preachers or pews here. There was no worship music or lights. Yet here I sat with more of Christ and less of me. Here God made himself known in the heart of a nurse, in the mouth of a neighbor and in the love of a mother. Here Christ carried me, all the way to a recliner. Here Grace thrived. I could not create it, and I did not ask for it; it just was. Almost like the air, it kept my spirit in an embrace unlike anything I’ve known. Almost as if I had been found for the first time. I was wrapped in scarlet kindness and breathing the air of heaven. All I want is you; bind my heart to you. Every breath I take is a breath to say, I am yours forever.

Day 3

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“Anna…I’m Thomas. I’ll be taking care of you today. You look beautiful this morning. Thomas was everything I would sum up on the street as what would appear to be a typical “bro”. He stood tall and broad with a bit of spike to his hair and a cheesy glim in his eyes followed by a grin bigger than any smile I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was the drugs, or maybe I was caught in my own moment of judgment. It may also be import to mention that what would end up being the only rough nurse I had, I had on Day 2. I was hesitant to get my hopes with this guy, but something about him struck me as so genuine. “Anna can I get you anything, would you like to try eating something yet?” My response a weak “No, I- I can’t.” He chuckles softly and says “Hey I get it, they cut you through 4 layers of muscle, took out some bones on your spine and removed what I heard was a feisty tumor. I wouldn’t want to eat shit either.” I smile slightly and he seems pleased. “Thomas, maybe I could try a saltine.” He jumps with joy and asks if I want the whole box in back or just one. I suppose my silence was my answer. He comes back and opens the daunting little cracker for me. “Hey check this out I’ll even feed you, like a queen or whatever.” I open my mouth, chew, and think to myself ….how the hell can chewing hurt? I get it down with a big gulp of water, but not for long. My knight and shining armor grabs the puke bag faster than Mr. Magi from The Karate Kid and sighs. “Maybe we should do Valium instead of saltines.” What a way to meet an unexpectedly great male nurse who I had assumed would be lame. Needless to say Thomas was a huge help Day 3. Naturally, he couldn’t just hang with me as the ICU is a busy place. It was about 9am…I had finally caught a couple hours of sleep during the night. Yet, I was only about halfway through my “lay flat and don’t move” stage. The day ahead felt more than just discouraging, it felt impossible. I was sweating buckets, my throat felt like I had swallowed sandpaper, my stomach turned with nausea, and my neck begged for a break from the mere two positions it could manage. Everyone told me – “Just watch a bunch of Netflix, play on your phone, or read.” No one told me I would be too miserable to do any of those things. And not being able to do those things, that wasn’t really the mountain. Sure, I was bored…but…being bored never killed anyone. The problem was and often is this; I have one of the most active minds of anyone you will ever meet. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a room full of people, all alone, busy, bored, or working. I will think, and think, and think, and think. My mind is constantly in a state that varies from the 14,000 dinner combinations I could cook to various but thorough visions for the next 25 years of my life. Furthermore, I’m not planning, I’m creating. Creativity is an area that has long since my childhood provided a balance in the relentless corridors of my mind.” I love to channel writing, photography, and musicianship as well and as often as life allows. Here there are no guitars or pianos. There is no scenery and the people move to quickly to capture. The words I would write are running together and my body begs for rest. I’m tired. So, so, so…tired. Yet somehow I still crave stimulation. Even if it just means sitting up. These wires feel like prison and the walls look like depression. When will Thomas come back? If I push my button too much will I annoy him? I should be stronger than this? Where’s my mother? Oh god, my poor mother. I miss my brothers, they always help me feel safe. I want to call someone, where’s my phone? No I don’t want my phone. I don’t want to talk to anyone. What’s on TV? I can’t see the TV. My thoughts are interrupted by the wheels of another bed. I was getting a roommate. Every selfish bone in my body resented this stranger. Not because I didn’t want to share my room. Hell, i only needed about 10 feet. The truth is I was just scared. Would he be a screamer? Would he code? Would he want to talk to me? His family followed close behind and I heard his wife crying, holding him. I quickly gathered they were both in their mid 60s and he had just finished a cyst removal. Unfortunately, this wasn’t his first back surgery. It would turn out that later that day I would be the screamer and he would be the poor fellow listening in on it all. I’ll skip through every detail and jump to about 2 in the afternoon. Even after its all said and done I can’t identify exactly what triggered it, but I know I will never forget it. Instead of tapping into Christ I let my head run for hours on end with no break. I called for my mother, and told her I felt like I was dying. For the record, just, don’t say that to your mother. She called for the nurse as my heart rate sped up. I could see her glancing at my 5 machines. “Anna breathe, breathe in. You’re okay, I’m here. Anna please you have to calm down.” My heart surged from my chest. I felt every beat like I was holding my heart in my hands. Then I started skipping beats. My machine rang with fury and a Doctor rushed in. Where was Thomas? Maybe he could calm me down. “Okay she’s at 190, we have to get something in her now.” Not even seconds later I was injected with a cocktail of drugs, surrounded by nurses, and staring down an exasperated mom. “Mom I don’t want to die here!” I wish I hadn’t gone there, but I did. I knew I wasn’t being myself and that the heavy meds were part of it…but fear overtook me. I had apparently landed somewhere between shock and grueling panic. My mind still ran but the numbers on the screens lowered. I saw my mother leave the room for a bit. I didn’t blame her. Hours passed and I essentially laid there in a zombie like state. My father was on his way back up with my grandmother. The very idea of my grandma seeing me this way made my heart turn. After my later afternoon spell, my body could not take anymore. I would instead end up primarily unresponsive the duration of Day 3. I remember my father holding my hand and my grandmother saying in disbelief “That’s not my Anna.” She was right, Anna was gone on Day 3. My hero of a dad nicely asked to stay after hours until midnight to help me relax, and they allowed it. I stirred at 2am moaning in pain. It was then that I heard a voice from across the room. “Anna–Anna is that your name.” It was my roommate. “Yes, I am Anna….” I had no idea what he would want to talk about at 2am but I was thankful he sounded like a very sweet man. “Anna please don’t give up. You just have to take this one day at a time Hun. You will get better Hun. I just prayed for you and I want you to know that God loves you in a very special way. He has given you extremely important gifts that are going to bless so many people. I don’t have to ask if you’re a believer because I hear God in you even at your worst. Just hold tight okay? You can do this and I promise you, God is here with us both. Okay Anna?” I respond through tears…”Thank you so much, I know you’re right and I know I will make it. Your words mean more than you know. It takes courage to tell a stranger those things.” He laughs softly…”Anna there are no strangers in the spirit. You young lady have the holly spirit all over you. And me, well, gods been working on my 3 times as long as you so I know we are sharing his spirit even if you don’t.” My heart leaps, this time in a good way. Once again, the Grace of God showers me with divine compassion from a stranger. My body relaxes and my mind turns off. I let my eyes grow heavy and my heart beat slow. I started Day 3 alone, but I ended Day 3 feeling as though I had gained a chest of treasures no one in the world has ever encountered before. None of it made much sense at the time, but in my last big breath before a rhythm of sleep it was one of the spirit. My heart was stolen; not by Thomas, not by my precious neighbor, but by Jesus all over again. It’s 3am and heaven has never felt so close.

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Day 2

“Anna we are going to …” His voice fades. Ripples surge on every side of my throat and I feel movement. Sliding, crunching, slipping, rippling, and rotating through every inch of my esophageal lining I gain awareness that my breathing tube is being removed. Uncomfortable hardly begins to explain the feeling, but before its fully out vomit lurks close behind. “Hold her down, get…hand …move…” I only gather parts of sentences. My parents later explained surgeons were concerned with my puking and dry heaving due to risks of spinal fluid leaking from the dura. Lights flicker in and out between a slight breeze of what I assume was the bed being wheeled to the Intensive Care Unit. An hour later I wake to 4 nurses working on getting me “all set” for ICU monitoring. It seemed as though there were cords coming out of every limb and from places/ directions to where I could not calculate their beginnings. My legs were wrapped with sleeves that pressed in and out of my calves rhythmically. Everything was unfamiliar and the limited view from the position of lying flat felt like a tease. After multiple requests my parents were allowed in. They looked much better, I’m sure, than I. Undoubtedly exhausted, yet at peace to see me awake and speaking. What words were exchanged are a bit blurry to me, but, I could see them and that was all that mattered. The doctor arrived shortly after. “Push against my hand, wiggle your toes, can you feel this? Is your toe being moved up or down?” I must have performed well as I watched my mother take a deep breath and tell me I had done well. It was almost 11 already so my parents were asked to come back in the morning. My gut dropped when they had to leave. They were the only familiar part of my present challenge. I told the nurse with urgency I was afraid. He assured me I was being monitored extremely closely. As he left and I lay alone unable to move I tried desperately to not dwell on the surgeons orders of a minimum 48 hours laying flat. Instead, I prayed. I thanked God for what had already been accomplished and for the small victories I would experience along the way in the next few days. I prayed for my parents, that they would rest and know I’m okay. I thanked God for the gifts of the surgeon who was purposed by Christ to do spinal surgeries. I thanked God that the surgeon himself was humble enough to admit he too, is amazed at what humans can accomplish against such delicate threats to life. I thanked God not because it was on a religious checklist barred by guilt and shame had I not; I prayed because in the cold, unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and lifeless walls of the ICU unit I had never felt so close to heaven. Sure, the trauma was present, but Christ was in control…and I being completely out of control came without pride, arrogance, and things of the flesh graciously. Never before had I been so aware how much our basic freedoms of flesh distinguish our ability to encounter the most basic freedoms of our soul and spirit. The night dragged on, slowly. I pushed my pain button and took prescribed medications every couple hours. Now on my side I stare at the wall, exhausted yet unable to rest. The ICU was so loud and hectic. I could hear that other patients were coding and/or experiencing emergencies. Whoever Mark is, I so hope he made it. The stress of being human and not wanting to hear others in pain yet in critical condition myself wore on my spirit. I knew my body was pumped full of everything from lexapro to morphine, but I could not find rest in the chaos. Whatever I was being given, sweat and nausea befriended each dose. Somewhere around dose 3 I dosed off for an hour where I awoke to the resident surgeon who helped with my operation and about 20 students. More of the same questions, more of the same tests; I answered honestly and tried to sound ….well….not how I felt. Shortly after, they continued rounds and my parents arrived. I was disappointed to see that they didn’t appear rested. I was on enough drugs to keep the pain in control, but too many to speak with my family. Everything felt unbelievably difficult. All I asked is that someone occasionally hold my hand, and of course, they were happy to do so. Something about human contact made everything feel a bit safer. I glanced at the clock. 8am. No. 48 hours…..God no. Panic struck and I begged to be let up. It was way too dangerous, and the answer would always be NO. Distant hums of politicians on TV create a small distraction. Every bone in my body hurts and I quickly become mad at how much so. Those hums in the background are such idiots I think to myself. While most of the world is on social media right now bitching about which one is dumber than the other there are thousands of people in this hospital alone clinging on small strings of hope. Instead of being on their phones or in front of their TVs, they could be volunteering in the community, visiting people without families in hospitals and nursing homes. They could do anything, but instead, they’re bugs to the light of argumentative spirits, self righteousness, and hatred. I’m not saying I haven’t been their or have lived without being guilty of just that; what I am saying is that once I can walk freely my time will be spent differently. I will go to the hurting and the lonely and the ones with only the mere hum of talking heads on tv who know nothing about true compassion. 11….nothing has changed. What choice to I have but to “just be”. I won’t eat. I won’t drink. It’s too hard. I will just think. I’ll think and I’ll be grateful for the presence of my mother coloring in the corner. I will be afraid but I will not be forgotten. I will make it to tomorrow. I will. God will. We will.

Day 1

imageJuly 27, 2016

7am pierces from my phones speakers naggingly, urging me up. Sleep and I never did come to an agreement during the night, nonetheless, I stir begrudgingly out of bed, forced into the reality of the day ahead. I watch as my lovely parents work tirelessly to make sure we “have everything.” My father seems content, pleased even; it’s evident his relief comes from Doctors having identified the cause of my unexplainable falls, lack of sensation and difficulty walking. It is clear to me, that he is resolved simply in the realm of knowing. His trust in God and in the surgeons resounds with me, calms me, and reminds me that his strength has always been a part of my internal compass. Similarly, I observe my mother as her mood fluctuates between excited and apprehensive. She would do anything for me within her control, but this, this is something she can’t do for me. Her tension is noticeable but her bravery extends from a place of choosing to trust that I will rest safely in the hands of Christ. On the way to the hospital the car is quiet with only the echoes of my phone singing alerts of well wishes from friends and family. I clutch my phone anxiously, overwhelmed by the magnitude of my support. I want their words to reside within me, but my soul longs for something else. Something more tangible, present, and peaceful. I begin to pray, simply yet earnestly. Grace meets me and the promises God made me leading up to this day penetrate my fear. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remind myself that this is my reality. I am not afforded the luxury of choice. Not taking action would result in paralysis or death…and grateful as I may be for the hard work of brilliant hands it saddens me how many times and in how many ways they have to remind me that death and paralysis are risks of this surgery. I know the chances aren’t terribly high, but it weakens my spirit a bit every time they repeat it. No sooner do I catch my breath and gather my thoughts do I arrive at the Hospital. We pull up and they wheel me through the corridors, periodically speaking cheerfully about how incredible Dr. Hitchon is; and let’s be clear, he is, incredible. His resume stands tall with national awards, success stories, and research publications in elite magazines such as TIME. Important as those qualifications are they aren’t what give me confidence. Instead I find his compassion, attention, and humble reverence for human life not only inspiring but essential. I have no doubts that he cares as much or more as me about how my 7 hours in surgery effect my future. We move to pre surgery where I change, give vitals, meet the team, and discuss what will happen next. Every 10 minutes feels like an eternity, and as my time to begin grows closer my  anxiety steepens. Tears fall and my breath shortens. Then an incredible thing happened. The nurse who had put in my IV, kneels down, takes my hand and begins to pray with me. A stranger to me, in that moment became someone I will never forget. Just as she finishes the surgical table is wheeled in and I stand, trying to avoid eye contact with my parents. The tears fall harder and my chest grows heavier. I’m surprised at my own level of fear. It’s as if all at once, it clicked. They are going to cut along my spinal column 10 inches, remove 3 vertebrae, and remove a tumor surrounded by spinal tissue that if damaged is irreversible. I get on the table. It is cold and unfamiliar. My parents pray with me and my words fall short. I’m sure in that moment they felt a bit helpless. Soon I was surrounded by my team in a room that looked like something out of the  X Files. They ask me more questions and ask that I sign for consent to be a case study. There would be 20 people in the room and about 80 watching. Apparently, I found out later, I am considered a “rare case”. A male nurse came and gently injected my arm with anesthesia. Instantly all was calm, and I asked the team to pray for me. The same nurse that had been in my pre surgery room came in and assured me, she would pray the entire time. I know to some who don’t share my beliefs they may believe that prayer is stupid, naive, and unnecessary. In my next blog I want to delve further into what I believe about prayer and why it matters. For now, I sleep soundly, unaware, and unconcerned as to what lies ahead. For now the lights fade, and I let what is, be. For now, I trust in my God, creator of heaven and earth, who made me in his image and loves me more than anyone I know on earth. For now, I just rest in knowing that this is my reality.

To My Friends Who Don’t Believe in Jesus

More than once in my short life I have found friends in the most unlikely of places. It was rarely in the church I found friends for life, although there  was one whom I love dearly to this day. Rather, I found friends on the weekend nights of showing up places where I knew no one. I founds friends anywhere from the corners of local music shows to exhaustive of hours of the night in my college library. It’s amazing who you’ll vent to under the excrutiating pain of procrastination. And, with my failure to write down anything in school I always befriended classmates and collegues, I would soon need them. I’ve never gone out of my way to be friends with “Christians”. Now, undoubtedly I have been great friends with those who also believe in Jesus Christ, but it has never been a credential. That sounds ridiculosu doesn’t it? A friendship credential? Perhaps, but it exists in the confines of religous thinking. It’s an idea that has been bred by some ideological thought process that never existed in the mind of Christ. To befriend Jesus you don’t have to “Be Christian” first, so to be my friend, what you believe is not my concern. I do believe Jesus Christ is savior. I believe that my life will always require his grace and my humility. I am not brainwashed, religious, or limited. I am educated, spiritual, and creative. If you have been, are, or will be a friend to me here is my promise to you should we differ in our spiritual beliefs.

 

  • You are and always will be respected for what you believe
  • You are going to be loved by me, and it will likely be inspired by the love Christ has shown me. I hope you can accept my love even if you unfamiliar with it’s source.
  • You will hear me say and do things that “those other christians” don’t. Here’s the thing: I won’t be different in front of different people. It is that simple.
  • You should not hesitate to ask me about my beliefs or question them. I have asked myself many of the questions you will ask and if I don’t know the answer I’m not going to throw a scripture at you.
  • Yes, I’m aware there is some terrible shit in the Bible. I don’t know yet if I believe every word on every page. I believe discernment is a huge missing piece of emphasis in the representation of being Christ-Like. I also believe the Bible represents the imperfections and a raw yet unruly time in history, as are all times in our history.
  • I won’t try to save you. I think to say “I believe Jesus is my savior” one minute and ask you to say the same the next minute is extremely conflictive. If you want to know about the sources of my spirituality I will share them with you in all their vulnerabilities and human imperfections. I will not however think so highly of myself to the extent that I could possibly “save” or “convert” you to another place of spirituality.
  • If you ask me about church you will have a very long conversation on your hands.
  • I don’t sit around and sing “This Little Light of Mine” on Sundays. I find spirituality and the presence of God throughout the week. Sometimes thats in listening to very secular music, sometimes it’s in writing, photography, long drives, or a good book.
  • I believe there is an incredible amount of influence in the church that doesn’t belong there. I believe community is the most important aspect of our lives and we should strive to not have to make it looks so pretty. There is definitely an institutionalized aspect to some churches, but, in the defense of the ones that are great- well, they’re just that, they’re great. They are run by pastors who exhaust themselves, congregations who show love to their communities, tithes are modest but consistent, that money stretches from Keokuk to Cambodia, and no one plays around with the pulpit. Good churches do exist and they do more good than you see sometimes. Don’t discount every one as the same. I’m reminding myself this as much as I am saying it to you.
  • When I say it’s about relationship not religion I mean it. Christians can call themselves a lot of things but you’ll know when you meet someone who stands confidently without labels. Someone who simply tells you, Jesus is my dude. We can leave it at that or we can talk about it.
  • I want to hear about what you believe and why. No, not just to humor you. I genuinely want to know.
  • I won’t tell you I’m right. I will tell you I’ve accepted this source of spirituality  partially as a result of experience, but mostly in faith.

Why you aren’t going to College

Any 20 something I know has faced the costly decision of whether or not to pursue higher education. “Even if I do go who’s to say my degree will reimburse itself ? And then what if I start in a particular field but change my mind”? How the hell am I supposed to know what I really want to do when I can barely pick out my own cereal? Will a degree really earn me more, or will I be buried in debt and scraping through paychecks to put out $1,500 per semester in textbooks”? No matter how you spin it, the odds are probably going to be stacked against you. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but I am going to encourage you to stand up against the odds.

Here’s why you should keep the conversation in your head going:

  • Employers don’t necessarily want to see undergraduate degrees because it automatically makes you an expert. They do however, like to see that you can commit to a disciplined process that involves being responsive to authority (i.e. professors). You will always have to be trained and mentored, but will you be trainable and responsive? A degree vs a non degree will often lead employers to believe you will.
  • You are marketing your face value. It’s messed up, but true. Employers often relate you investing yourself in something else as being more intent on investing yourself on the job. You are automatically “better” than that guy with the GED. It is wrong and it can feel unfair but it is more often than not the truth.
  • If you can be patient and approach higher education like the business it is, you may be able to afford it. Start off at a junior college and take as many classes as you can. Get your momentum and minimalize your cost as best you can. Grab that associates degree and reasses your plan accordingly before moving forward.
  • Avoid online schools. While they are convenient and ideal for individuals in rural areas they often come at a cost. Tuition is typically significantly higher and even if the digits don’t look different, you have to rememeber they have an extremely low overhead so either way they are selling you on convenience and nothing more. Online schools also tend to have hidden “exceptions” in the fine print. They will get you excited and on board with a nursing or teaching program only for you to find out after graduating that only 6/50 states will actually license you. Now, once you are moving toward a Masters it is much more likely Online Coursework is the way to go. For one you will have already established undergraduate/licensing in a state which then can be transfered to other states. Secondly, you will have a larger income base to work from, thus reducing overall debt.
  • Just start.  When people think College they often delve right into the overwhelming facets of finances. If you can’t take a full load, do what you can and ask as many questions as you can about what your time frame for completing the degree looks like. So often I see people get gridlocked and unhappy because it feels like they can’t go to a University, but they also hate where they stand in a given situation.
  • Network at every turn. Whether you go to college or not, networking is everything. The reality is that most careers sit on a foundation of who do you know, how do they know you, and what value can they attest you will bring to your given field of work. It can be really difficult at times to put yourself out there, but you very rarely have anything to lose.
  •  Make your vote matter. Vote for state and federal officals that intend to improve the affordability of higher education (GO BERNIE). Also pay attention to the regulations the federal government intends to enforce regarding for profit online education companies.
  • Find a trade school. Our country needs MORE trade schools. Not only can you often finish a program in a year or less but you have the opportunity to secure yourself with a specified skill in the job market. Not only will you make more money, you will feel good about having a “safety net” of sorts.
  • Don’t let debt decide for you. Yes debt is scary, but you know what is worse? Not going if you really want to because of money. Just go. Not for anyone else but just for you. At some point if you want to build something better for yourself you will have to invest money you don’t have to get the job done. 90% of the time that is just how it works in this world.  Employ a plan and stick to it.

Nothing in this life is guaranteed, but there are some things worth investing. If your dream job requires a degree, then go after it. If you don’t know what your dream job is but you are pretty sure it will require higher education, GO. I’m not saying it’s a fair system out there, but you can choose make the most of what exists. If you are satisfied with your life’s work and it didn’t cost you a fortune, bravo. Keep going and capitialize on every opportunity. Before you say no consider these as options, and if you are sure your answer is no, I would be interested in understanding what led you to that decision. Carry on my fellow brains.

Let’s Talk Keokuk

Keokuk. What comes to mind? Barren, Old, Boring, Limited, Meth,Dirty, Blue Collar, Bars, Clicky? You said it not me. Yes, you. Let’s get something straight, there is nothing more exasperating than being around people who wrap something up in a box and call it crap indefinitely. Not sure what I mean? I mean the people who constantly complain about Keokuk (and small towns alike) but make no effort to preserve it’s historic and present value. It’s the people who never have time to support community events, fundraisers, or volunteer efforts unless they see an immediate benefit or interest. If there is nothing to do here, what are you so busy with? And don’t tell me it’s because you don’t have $10 to spare because you’ll be at the Bar or Wal-Mart spending it this weekend. I don’t care if you think it’s stupid, old fashioned, or just another play at the Grand Theatre, go. This isn’t about being patronizing it’s about being clear; you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

For instance, yesterday Keokuk held it’s annual “Tour of Homes”. It just so happens my parents loft apartment was on the list this year. However, my grandmother really wanted to see the other homes, and why not? So we  paid $20 and strolled around. Now, I’ll be honest it is not what I would have chosen to do on a Saturday afternoon. It just isn’t, and that is okay. What isn’t okay is to not acknoweldge that families opened their homes, 200 plus individuals in the community participated, and all proceeds went to supporting an effort for Keokuk Area Hospital.  There is a cycle here. Support fundraiser(s) > Revitalize Community Socialization/ Relationship/ Networking >Help Area Hospital > Stabilize Hospital programs> Strengthens Employment Opportunity> Create Opportunity for Economic Growth. Think it sounds far fetched? It really isn’t. You have to be able to take the first step which is to support before you can reach the final steps of stabilizing and strengthening.  This is just one small fundraiser of many that happen yearly, and, it is likely more would occur if those small efforts were to gain traction.

In a contiuation of this discussion let’s go ahead and cover the following statement we’re all too familar with: “I just need to get out of this town.” Guess who has said that many times? Me. Furthermore, I would be putting up a front if I said I don’t still feel that way at times. In fact, do not think for a minute I am claiming to be “pillar” in our community. I’m not, but I have made a decision to change my attitude about this community. My Keokuk is full of countless memories, relationships, experiences, and traditions. The truth is you do need to get out of Keokuk. Save your money, travel, find a way to get away for a bit. As someone who has had the priviledge of visiting 32 states and 7 countries at the ripe age of 24 I assure you it is worth it.  I have experienced everything from the fast paced life of Tokyo to huts in the countryside of Bulgaria. I have taken a bike down mountains in Canada, and rode horses down rural beaches in Mexico. I lived somewhere throughout college for 5 years and enjoyed it. Yet it remains indisputable that whether I was on the otherside of the world or hours away I have always been happy to come home.  If you need to leave, or want to leave, leave; but don’t trash Keokuk all the way to your next destination. You shouldn’t trash the place that raised you even if you think it didn’t raise you right; and certainly, you shouldn’t trash your home if you are still trying to live in it.

So, if you are going to be here, don’t be “one of those” people. It is so easy to gossip shortcomings of the town, just don’t be that easy. Just because you are of a certain opinion doesn’t mean someone behind the scenes isn’t working tirelessly to change it. There are a handful of individuals who work tirelessly to build a better Keokuk, and yes, I absolutely think my Father is one of them. He would be to humble to admit how much that actually is, but if you’re reading this you probably already know who they are. It’s time to stop fixating on what Keokuk was, or could be, and start supporting our community right where it is. 

There are many benefits of living in a small town like Keokuk you take for granted once you’ve hit the big city. From the smallest of offerings such as familiar faces while you shop, to low cost of living, bank workers who know you by name, hair stylist who love you as a “regular”, Churches who give kids a safe place to have fun after High School football games, the YMCA a town our size is lucky to have (even if you think it’s outdated), a beautiful Rand Park, and updated School Facilities.There is always a way to make foster growth. America is made up primarily of small towns. The communities that thrive are the ones who are valued. So, support your community, and your community will support you.