A New Normal

March is Brain Injury Awareness month.

I really didn’t think I would still be struggling with things five years later. But here we are, five years later and migraines still knock me for a loop.

I’m just going to be honest here… I had a rough 36 hours. I worked all weekend-night shift-so I slept a bit yesterday, but it wasn’t quite long enough. So, then I continued about my day. It was good, but towards evening I started to get a headache. Long story short, I ended up in bed with an ice pack. Migraines like that are fewer and far between, but now they knock me for a loop because I’m not expecting them. It’s times like this that I want so much to be normal, but then I remember that this thing doesn’t take away from me, but rather it adds. I’m who I am now because of it. Here’s a few things to consider as you interact with people with known or unknown head trauma.

  1. Every injury is different. You may know someone who had a brain injury, but that does not mean you know this new person’s story. I get that you are trying to relate, but better than jumping in, listen. Their story may surprise you.
  2. Just because we think differently, don’t think we are stupid. Can I be vulnerable? This is one of my biggest fears. On bad brain days, when the words get caught more often than naught, I fear that people will think that I’m incompetent. I know I shouldn’t care this much about what people think, but I’ve worked my butt off to get to where I am. So yes, I probably care too much about what people think and honestly, words might get caught in my head, but I know that I’m just as smart if not more than I was before my accident.

These are just a few ways that you can accept a person with a brain injury! Even 5 years later, I’m adjusting to my new normal. Thanks for reading my thoughts!

5 years…

Dear Sara,

This is me writing to you from 5 years after that life-changing event. Here’s what I have learned and grieved as life doesn’t look anything like I thought it would, but God is good in the chaos of life.

  1. Nothing is a coincidence. I feel like I already kinda knew this, but I have really felt this lately. It’s not a coincidence that on one of my hardest days, a friend texts me out of the blue or I get a letter that encourages my soul.
  2. We need people. We can’t do life or get through hard things without certain people. I mean, you must choose the people that surround you wisely, but I can’t count the number of times that I was “this” close to giving up, but certain people took me by the hand and walked with me. 
  3. Everybody goes through something, but don’t let it define you. Sometimes it’s more obvious and sometimes it’s more subtle. I’ve learned in the past couple of years that I am more than my accident or brain injury. Yes, I do have chronic pain and I deal with migraines, but it makes me a better nurse because I get it. 
  4. Life is not simply about my happiness or comfort. Growing up, I knew this fact but there’s a difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. Life is about glorifying God and His desire to rescue humanity. If God can use my story to advance His kingdom, who am I to stand in His way.
  5. I probably wouldn’t have a few people that have impacted my life-my husband being the most significant. I met him shortly after and he put up with me finding myself again before I could offer anything to him. We are still growing and figuring stuff out, but he is my soulmate and my accident put us in the same circles quicker. 
  6. It’s necessary to put down roots so you have a place or people to go home to. Throughout my nomadic childhood, I put my roots into people rather than the bevy of places that shaped my worldview. I’ve always wrestled with the idea of staying vs going. I’ve learned the necessity of walking the tension of both. It’s exciting to go to different places and see exotic things, but there’s also a strange kind of comfort in being known by the barista in the local coffee shops or the guy at the front desk at work. There’s something about being known and seen.

This is not a comprehensive list of what I’ve learned and grieved in the past couple of years, but as 5 years rolls around, I’m learning that I’m a complex person. This is part of my story but not the entirety of it. It complicates life a little, but it ultimately makes me a better nurse, daughter, best friend and wife.

Love, Sara

The year of Enough

Enough.

That is my word for this year-this crazy and insane year. I chose to embody this word in whatever I did throughout the year, and man was it hard.

I chose to believe I was enough even when I needed to take antidepressants to help me cope with nursing in a pandemic. I don’t plan on being on them forever, who knows though, but they allow me to be the best friend, daughter, wife, sister, and nurse I can.

I chose to believe I was enough when real life clouds marriage and the rubber meets the road. We basically started out the year married so we are coming up on one year. It has been the best and hardest thing. We grew a lot and together but oftentimes, I had to choose to believe I was enough because I felt lacking. The key is choosing to see what can realistically be changed and needs to change and what is my brain lying to me.

I chose to believe I was enough when I didn’t get positive feedback on my work but I also didn’t get negative feedback. I chose to believe I was enough simply because I was enough.

I chose to believe I was enough when my brain says get overwhelmed and I need to rest. It doesn’t make me less than because I can’t do more, it just makes me more intentional about the time I do give to people. I’m learning that no one can do everything.

I chose to believe I am enough simply because I’m a daughter of the King. That being said, life is not always easy, but it is sweet if you choose to look for the light shining in. When life causes me to doubt that I just have to remember the truths.

  • God embraces emotions.
  • I am valued and loved.
  • God calls me beloved.
  • I am a child of God (John 1:12)
  • I am beautifully made (Psalms 39:14)
  • I am intelligent (Genesis 1:27)
  • I am loved (John 3:16)
  • I am enough

I’m just as enough with messy hair in my overalls as I was all dolled up in my wedding dress. I’m choosing to live into that every day, not simply the good brain days.

Here’s to the rest of 2021 and growing in confidence and experience. Here’s to believing I am enough, no matter where God has me put my anchor down.

6 months down, a lifetime to go.

Now I still have so much to learn about marriage and about Sean, but we’ve made it halfway through year one and we started our journey in the throes of a pandemic. Here are a few things that I’ve learned in the hardest and best 6 months:

  • Marriage is a commitment-A promise to someone else. It’s promising that the other person will always be the first priority in your life. It’s promising that his happiness is valued. 
  • Marriage is a collaboration-rather than a compromise. A friend once told me that in compromises one person usually lose something but in a collaboration both parties work together to a common end. I think that’s true. Both parties are often more satisfied with the end result.
  • Marriage is an endless sleepover with my favorite person. I look forward to coming home and seeing Sean and curling up next to him. I think someday I’ll get over it (but I really hope not).
  • Grand gestures are nice but it’s the little things that truly mean a lot. Flowers and candy are always appreciated by me but it’s more about the gentle way he holds me when my emotions are fragile or the way he waits till I wake up in the afternoon to mow the lawn.
  • Loving well means you need to learn the other person’s love language. 
  • Communication never goes out of style.
  • Love is a choice-even when the feelings are there.
  • It’s not all about a wedding, but marriage does deserve to be celebrated. 

So here we are: 6 months down, a lifetime to go, and a whole lot more to learn and fail at the first time. Sean is my favorite person and I can’t imagine doing this marriage thing without him by my side. Marriage is hard but worth it nonetheless.

Grace, upon Grace, upon Grace

Can I be honest?

I’ve been in a dark place. I didn’t want to admit that because life is seemingly good. I married my favorite person. I bought a house. We got a cat. I love my job (most of the time). I talk to/see my best friend on the regular. Life is good.

But hard.

They don’t tell you that even though you live together now, being on opposite schedules mean, you may not see much of your favorite person. 

Adulting is a lot of work-and you have to do the work even when you don’t feel like it.

Sean thinks so differently than I do, which in most cases it’s good because I’m glad he hasn’t experienced the same trauma I have.

PTSD stinks. I mean, you do the work. You’re able to stand on your own two feet again. You have a steady job and relationship. You think you’re good then WHAM. PTSD hits you upside the head and knocks you down. 

Depression makes you feel less than because it’s all of a sudden hard to get out of bed and find motivation to do even the simplest tasks.

We are in the middle of a pandemic that changed the way we do everything. 

Oh and add to it the guilt of not being okay when it appears that you should be happy. It stinks.

All in all, I’ve been managing with the help of trusted individuals and God. But I decided that I couldn’t process it by myself, so I started therapy again. It was with the same counselor that say me though the mire the first time so she’s familiar with my defense mechanisms. Only two sessions in and it wrecked me.

I finally put a name to the feelings of loss I was feeling after everything. I was preparing for everything to get ripped out from under me. What? Life was good and I was preparing for the worst.  After that session, I had to do the hard and exhausting work of sitting with all the emotions. Now that I’ve sat with them, felt them fiercely, and given them room to breathe, I can do the even harder work of changing my thoughts. 

Here’s to not being okay, but I’m in a better place than I was yesterday. Here’s to giving myself grace when my traumatized self hurts the people I love. I have broken pieces but I’m doing the hard work of letting Jesus patch me together like only He can.

Loving your Neighbors and Other Expressions of God’s Goodness.

“It is a gift to have a body that holds our soul here on earth, with a heart that beats and air that

moves through our lungs. It’s a gift to be able to come to God with our prayers. It’s a gift to do the

things that give us joy. It’s a gift to have opportunities to love our neighbors. We live an incarnational

life on purpose. God designed it that way. By our very design we have limitations. We can fight them

or accept them.”

Alexandra Kuykendall

I was just thinking the other day about God’s goodness.

Tonight, I was blown away by God’s goodness. Honestly, if you asked me a year ago, if I would be living Mansfield by my choice, dating the love of my life and working at a hospital

in direct patient care, I would have laughed in your face.

I did laugh in my brothers face when he mentioned something about me returning to the hospital setting.

I honestly figured that was long gone as well as the hopes that anyone would be able to love me and my

broken (albeit slowly put back together brain and “Sara”). But God in his goodness put me back together

piece by piece and placed someone in my life that could handle my put together self with grace.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, but right now, I can honestly say that God is good. A year and a

half ago, I struggled with believing-truly believing-that statement.

God is good.

God has a good plan for me.

I couldn’t see it. Sometimes, I honestly wondered why He saved me.

BUT GOD!

He has burst out of every box that I tried to put Him in. 

I have been so blessed by the unit and people in the hospital God has placed me with.

The man in my life who graciously deals with my schedule and loves my healing brain.

My small group girls and leaders God has put in my life to mold me more like himself.

The sunsets and sunrises where God shows His glory after a long day or long night.

So here I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God and realizing that God is not asking me to change

the world. He is simply asking me to love my neighbor-the people He has chosen to put in my sphere of

influence. Here I’ll be, simply loving my corner of the world. 

You, love, are Enough.

Hey! You matter!

Right here and right now. 

You are enough.

You are a child of God and that makes you enough.

Not your GPA. Not your size. Not your abilities. Not that guy or that girl.

You are enough.

Social media has its benefits as well as its drawbacks. It feeds into this comparison trap we as humans fall into.

 I’m not as tiny as her. I’m not as muscular as him. My relationship isn’t as perfect as theirs. I can’t sing as well as her. She has my dream job. Her house is clean. She has perfect well-behaved kids. 

The thing about comparison is that you are comparing tomatoes and potatoes. Your story is yours and yours alone. No one else has the exact same experiences as you.

Think about science experiments. There are variables that affect the outcome of these experiments. If you change the variable, you change the course of the experiment. It’s the same way with life. There are so many variables that change the story-siblings, family, childhood home/country, DNA. Add to that the simple fact that people only post the good moments-the sweet moments, the well-behaved moments-not the messy, disgruntled, I-still-choose-you-even-through-we-don’t-agree-on-this moments. 

You, my dear, are enough just the way you are-simply because Christ says so.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” –Psalm 139:13-16

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” – 1 Peter 2:9

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10

God has something for you that only you can do-not that girl you follow on Instagram who seems to have her life together-only you. I say “seems” because 9 times out 10 that is simply just the good moments she is posting. You aren’t seeing the whole picture but she is probably just as lost in life as you are. People probably think by looking at my social media that I have my life together (even though I try to be as honest and vulnerable as I can), but I definitely don’t. I may have a smidgen of my life together at any one point but it changes daily. The moral of the story is that God has a purpose for the experience you have and the place you are placed, even the people that He puts into your life.  

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I’ll get off my soapbox, but before I leave, imagine us having coffee together. I’m sitting across the table for you, a steaming cup of liquid goodness in my hands. I look you straight in the eyes and utter these words:

“You, love, are enough. Regardless of where you have been, what you’ve done, or even who you are. You are enough and loved. You are loved more than you could ever know by the Creator of the universe. He died for you.”

Remember that as you approach this week.

You are enough. You are loved.

Right Here, Right Now

I’m just going to be 100% honest. I just got okay-deep in my soul-with being back in Mansfield.

In the first months after my accident, I fought God on several things and being back in Mansfield was one of them. I didn’t have a choice in moving back. My family and friends literally packed up my apartment and moved my stuff into my parent’s house while I was in the hospital. Granted, it was a special case in that I really couldn’t have taken care of myself. I couldn’t even walk by myself.

Nevertheless, I was mad at God.

I struggled to be content right here, right now, wishing I was anywhere but here. Last fall, I started this journey of being content recognizing that this is my corner of the world. I read Shannan Martin’s The Ministry of Ordinary Places last fall. This caught my eye. She writes, “God got busy shrinking the world as I knew it down to a pinhole, one solitary shaft of light. ‘The souls exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness,’ wrote Mary Oliver. Rather than feeling stuck in a problem-sodden world, I would never be able to fix, God was caring for my soul by pointing me towards my corner of it and asking me to believe it was enough”. That’s when I started to realize that instead of being upset at God for bringing me back, I needed to accept that he brought me back for a reason. He was asking me if this right here, right now would be enough. That challenged me. Was it enough? Could it be enough? If I were to stay in America, in Mansfield, Ohio, for the rest of my life, would that be enough? Would listening, loving, and pointing my small group girls toward God be enough? It’s not as extraordinary as helping starving orphans in Mexico or loving on kids in Africa. Would sacrificing sleep to love on a girl who may not know what that looks like be enough? I say I’m content and at peace with staying here-right here-indefinitely, but would that be enough?

It’s been a journey in getting to this place, and God has used several people to instill that into my head. I think the biggest one is the student God bought to MCS and my life. God put me right here, right now to let that sweet little boy not feel alone in that he isn’t the only one who has a traumatic brain injury. I am still blown away by God and how He orchestrated my being at the school at the exact time he started coming to the school. This solidified this idea that I’m right here, right now for a reason. So I don’t know what your story is: whether you aren’t working in the field you went to college for, or you may be in a different place than you thought you’d be, financially or physically. What I have learned in the past two years, I want to pass on to you:

 

  • You may not like where you are in life, but there are no coincidences with God. The situation may not be caused by God, but God can use that situation in others lives.
  • He brings people into your life and even takes them out for a reason.

 

 

Anchors and Roots

This idea of roots has been a topic of thought for years. Growing up, the idea of putting down roots was appealing. I was jealous of my friends who had lived in the same house, the same city, and with the same people.

The idea of staying in the same place was comforting (in theory).

The idea of staying vs. going has been a constant thought in my head. I argue with God over the logical nature of putting in roots, desiring to be a wanderer, not a stationary figure.

God challenges me back.

What is so wrong with staying put for the time being? What is wrong with putting down roots and allowing people to know you? Truly know the Sara I created you to be.

This is my corner of the world right here, right now

Recently, I wrestled with the idea of putting down roots here, because it seemed scary. I then discovered the idea of anchors.

Sailors use anchors to keep them in one location for the time being and then when they’re done, they pull up anchor and move on.

That’s a lot less scary than the idea of roots. I choose “anchor” as my word for the year. So far, I’m thriving is putting my anchor down here.

  • I’m loving my small group girls and enjoying watching them grow into the women God created them to be.
  • The little humans at school fill my happiness bucket with their soft smiles and energetic hugs.
  • The Starbucks Barista knows my name and my typical order.  

A friend and I were talking the other day about roots, and we realized that we put roots into people rather than places. I realized that was true in my life. After my accident, I had no problem remembering people, but places where a little fuzzy or not there at all. I was thinking about that.

What if I put roots into people and anchors into places?

That’s an interesting thought. You leave places, but people are just a phone call away. These a few people like my family that whenever they call, I drop everything and pick up the phone and I know they would do the same.

So here I am, figuring out how to put my anchor down in Mansfield. Here I am. Figuring how to put roots into my family, my boyfriend and my close friends. Here’s me, living my best life right here, right now and seeing  God move in big and small ways.

A Heart for the Nations

I leave part of my heart in every country I’ve been. The Dominican Republic is no exception. Here are some things I learned about myself and God.

  • I need to remember to breathe.

This month has been full of good surprises, but my head has been spinning by all God’s been doing. The first part of the week was well spent in just sitting with God-simply sitting in the awesomeness of God’s movement. It was refreshing to revel in His glory rather then cower in fear. This season, I’ve learned a lot about rest but sometimes, I forget to actually practice it. This trip was like a breath of fresh air.

  • God is really good about pushing me out of my comfort zone, but also showing me that I am loved more than I could ever know.

One day towards the end of the trip I ended up stitching a goat’s ear. I had learned about sutures, but I had never done them in real life. Plus, my right hand doesn’t work as well. So when I was asked, I said yes but I was scared silly. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I accomplished it. That night was church, and God knew my soul needed baby cuddles. I ended up holding a child who fell asleep on me and at that moment, the world felt right.

  • Everyone has different gifts-you need to push yourself, but be willing to use your gifts for His glory.

We were doing several different projects this week, and I struggled with not being physically able to do all the manual labor that we did, but I had to realize my nurse skills and ability to remain calm under pressure came in handy time and time again. So I may not have concrete mixing abilities, but God gave me a quick mind and calm spirit. I just have to be open to letting God use my gifts instead of wishing I was someone else.

  • God always shows up-especially when you don’t expect Him to.

There were many times that God showed up whether it was impromptu relationship and life talks or a cool breeze on a particularly warm day.

God ALWAYS shows up. You just have eyes to see Him.

  • Sunsets on some dreams and sunrises on others is an aspect of God that I love.

It was in the Dominican 4 years ago that I first began to dream about studying genetic diseases as well as hemolytic diseases in underdeveloped countries. Dreams like researching hemolytic disorders and their testing to make them more accurate and accessible. This week that dream resurfaced, and I got a glimpse of what that could look like down the road. I don’t know how or if God will orchestrate it, but I’m starting to get excited about the possibility of this new adventure with Jesus whatever it will look like.

  • We don’t need to see the whole staircase to take a step.

It is definitely scary to take a step when we can’t see the whole road, but I think we’d be even more scared if we saw the outcome thinking we are insufficient and unprepared. It’s more about the journey and becoming more like Christ than the immediate destination.